Wednesday, 14 September 2011
And we walked off... to look for America.
Warning: Political Post Ahead.
I saw an image of graffiti on a blog I follow yesterday. It couldn't have been more appropriate. "Speak the truth, even though your voice trembles"
My voice doth tremble. But sometimes maintaining silence is simply no longer possible.
I am about to speak the truth as perceived by me. This blog post will undoubtedly cost me followers, I don't set out to be malicious, vindictive or spiteful, and this is certainly no knee-jerk reaction, it's a post I've had 10 years to think about. What I say below is out of concern and love for a people and nation I adore.
When I was 12 years old I was in awe of America - a land where you could find liberty, democracy, freedom, justice and equality - there really was nowhere on the face of this earth that came close to the United States of America. I wished I was an American. In my desire to realise that wish I sent off a hand scribbled letter to the state of New York asking how I could become an American and then become a Police Officer there. Several months later, my local postie handed me an envelope with an American postmark. Inside, the letter explained what I had to do to become an American and further explained what I had to do to become a Police Officer. But what really caught my eye was the big bold lettering at the top "We are an Equal Opportunities Employer". Through my 12 year old eyes, here was a nation with no class system, no differentiation based upon religion, gender, race or starting point in life. Here was a nation which had realised, the physical and political embodiment of centuries of struggle and philosophy. It starkly contrasted with my own nation, riddled as it was by a pernicious class system, and sectarianism.
By the time the Americans caught up with me at 18 years old, I had already become a Police Officer in Scotland and so I then politely declined their formal invitation to go through the application process.
And so it was that my future developed in Scotland and England but being a keen political activist and observer, America was never far from my thoughts.
Then in 2001, the world changed.
Four aeroplanes were hijacked and the terror and grief unleashed on 911 reverberated around the world. As I watched the twin towers crumble, I realised my heart was doing likewise and so too would billions of others across the planet. A plethora of new legislation was introduced, most notably the Patriot Act. As ever, my own nation followed suit acting like the USA's shadow.
Allied forces then attacked Afghanistan before moving into Iraq, both these actions were questionable and problematic but it's not the resultant foreign policy I wish to discuss here. It's domestic policy.
I remember watching a Democratic Presidential candidate debate which included Barack Obama but the individual who caught my eye was Dennis Kucinich, why? He was being berated for being the only politician there who voted against the Patriot act. I was impressed by his response, "I voted against it because I'm the only one here who actually read it and knows what's in it."
Today I watch in shock and disbelief as four and five year old boys and girls are pulled aside at airports in the USA and have the contents of their underwear examined. I see former breast cancer sufferers being asked to remove their prosthetic breast in the most humiliating of circumstances so that they can be examined for possible terrorist equipment. I read of the demands of the United States that an autistic young man from Britain be extradited to the USA for possible "terrorist" offences (he found his way into a military computer whilst looking for information on ' aliens '). I read of right-wing commentators demanding that Julian Assange be executed. I read today of a woman, a US citizen, being taken handcuffed from an aeroplane in Detroit by officers wielding machine guns and then being subjected to interrogation and a full strip search. Her crime?
"She looked suspicious" (for the full shocking account of her ordeal please read her own words at this link). I read of Internet hackers whose misguided behaviour in interrupting the flow of communications between corporations leaves them not with a slap on the head or six months in the slammer - they face possible terrorism charges formulated under the Patriot Act. I read of ordinary men and women who simply happened to have a camera handy when something unusual was going down on the street outside and who now face 20 years in prison for having the audacity to film what was happening. Making images of something unfolding in public is not ordinarily a crime (although I now believe seven differing states have made it so if you photograph or film an officer of the law performing their duty). Why has photography in public suddenly become a criminal act? Officers of the law are public servants, it is your tax dollars employing them. In fact the vast majority of police officers in the performance of their duty are filming you with cameras mounted in their vehicles.
You know, my understanding, my experience of the United States of America has largely been gleaned through movies, music, novels and documentaries. They probably represent the United States of America's biggest and best, most important export. In those movies, in that music, in those novels and documentaries there was a freedom, particularly of young people, which was so appealing, so charming, so desirable. A month or so ago I watched a video of two young sisters neither over 12 years old, who wanted to make some extra pocket money so that they could both go to a funfair. They did what I believe is a tradition in some parts of the United States - they made lemonade to sell to passers-by from the lawn outside their home. Until the police moved in that is - it seems in this day and age kids can't even sell lemonade without some kind of retail license, or health and hygiene license. The screw is being tightened but not on terrorists!
Have anti-terrorism laws been formulated as a means of social control knowing the economic bubble would burst eventually?
Just yesterday I was horrified to read that there are now more Americans living in poverty than have been since the 1950s. I looked in disbelief at images of tented villages springing up in woodland all over the USA, where the poor live beneath tarpaulins and this wasn't just out in Hicksville - this was in New Jersey! In this particular community in New Jersey to protect themselves from a harsh winter, they had erected three or four wooden structures including a little church - however the ' authorities ' felt this was in contravention of planning law and so demolished all of them, even though this endangers their lives. They now have to have open fires inside their cloth covered, plastic tarpaulin roofed hovels.
Something is wrong in America, something is fundamentally wrong and ordinary men and women all across that great land are suffering as a consequence. It's more than an economic malaise, there is a wedge being driven between those who have and those who do not, between those at the top and those at the bottom, between those who can purchase protection from the law and those who are open to exploitation by it, between those whom the powers that be deem fit to protect and those they don't.
Was my America mythical? Did it ever really exist? I believe it did, so where did it go?
On 11 September 2001, it wasn't only four aeroplanes which were hijacked; it seems to me, it was the United States of America.