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Commentary :: DNC : Human Rights
This is What Democraacy Looks Like
25 Jul 2004
How do I describe the sense of dread that crawled under my skin as I observed that there were only two entrance/exits to this long narrow cage enclosed with two chain link fences, covered with a mesh net, topped with two rolls of razor wire...
It's both the gift and the curse of a writer or artist, to feel life's experiences so intensely that words, or music or brush strokes flow from us without effort as that experience is transformed into a tangible sharing of our experience. But words do not flow this morning They didn't come to me last night either, and so I sought out the catharsis of the companionship of people who would understand, in the dorm hall kitchen here at Emmanuel College where I'm staying with the Kucinich delegates and volunteers this week.

Their company and a night of sleep haven't released my muse. But these are words that must be written, even if eloquence escapes me.

Earlier last evening, I'd been sitting on a subway, returning from a day at the Boston Social Forum, where I'd attended two excellent panel discussions about the Iraq war and the growing peace movement. It wasn't so much what was said at these events that had lifted my spirits as it was the pleasure of being around thousands of people who shared my passion for peace and freedom and had defied the fear mongering and back-room scheming that had been served up to discourage our participation in the democratic process this coming week. To spend time surrounded with these eclectic and astute people was reenergizing, and while none of the speakers offered easy or quick solutions, they reassured me that the world is peopled with enough empowered intelligence to turn things around. Buoyed with a rekindled hope for our future, I'd chatted happily with the passengers on the train about the Tee-shirt I was wearing - the one with the cartoon that says "Move your Ass to the Left, Please."

Instead of returning to the campus where I'm staying for the week, I was going to go see the area I'd been hearing about that had been designated as a "free speech zone". For those readers who haven't participated in a protest since 9/11, these designated areas where protesting at major events is supposed to be confined, are Homeland Security's solution to crowd control. Try to remember, as I continue this essay, that our Bill of Rights guarantees us Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly.

In the interest of security, the subway station near the Fleet Center is closed, so I took the "T" as far as Government Center and would walk the rest of the way. There was already a noticeable increase in security in the station since I'd taken the train earlier in the day. Groups of two or three cops were standing everywhere and national guardsmen were positioned at the turnstiles. My brain cells that store the "FTAA protest in Miami experience" were starting to awaken and the euphoria from being at the Boston Social Forum was quickly waning.

When I emerged from the subway station (called a T-Stop here in Boston), a few blocks before me was Faneuil (rhymes with "Daniel") Hall. I'd been to an event in this historic meeting hall the previous evening for a program sponsored by Veterans for Peace. In the same place where Samuel Adams had once spoken passionately against the injustices of the British Empire's control of the colonies, modern patriots, Daniel Ellsberg and Howard Zinn had decried with equal eloquence the emerging American empire agenda for war without end or justification, fueled with the lives of our soldiers.

One couldn't miss the grand painting above the stage, depicting Daniel Webster on the floor of the Senate, in a now famous debate with Senator Hayne in 1830, where he argued for two days that our Constitution was not a mere agreement of states, but a compact of the American people guaranteeing freedom. His words, "Liberty and Union, now and forever!" are carved boldly beneath the frame. "How ironic," I'd thought when I read those words. There we were in the building know as the "Cradle of Liberty" where almost 250 years ago the case for Liberty was argued well enough to inspire a revolution. But despite Webster's words 175 years ago, liberty and union cannot be assumed to be ours -- not now and certainly not forever. Instead, it is the case for freedom that must be argued by patriots of every generation, both "now and forever," because without vigilance, there will always be those who will steal it away.

There was a better dressed crowd hanging about in the area beyond Faneuil Hall known as the Haymarket, than those at the Boston Social Forum back at University of Massachusetts. Concerns about freedom and peace didn't seem to be on their minds. A group had gathered around a magician who was performing tricks with a little boy. There was a festive, party atmosphere. The police presence was far more discrete among these tourists and revelers. I noted some of the pubs and restaurants in the area, thinking that after I took my photos I'd treat myself to a nice dinner before returning to put together CPR4Democracy. But I have to admit I felt out of place and the response to my Tee-shirt in this crowd wasn't one of approval.

It wasn't as simple to find the "Free Speech Zone" as it seemed. I'd asked several groups of police along the way for directions, and they were all friendly and helpful, but... well maybe it's just my imagination that the directions that finally got me there were from a helpful civilian passerby. It's no wonder I couldn't find the spot, it's so well hidden. There is absolutely no way that anyone would see anything happening in this area. There are no open streets where cars can drive by. There are no sidewalks where people would walk by. Nervously, I walked past a group of cops standing at an opening in a fence, thinking that I would see the assigned area somewhere else and then realized that I was already standing within it.

I can't begin to describe my horror being in this place. The same government that calls the law that gives polluters free reign to pollute, the "Clear Skies Act" and calls the justification for us to terrorize the world, the "War on Terror" has the audacity to call this concentration-camp type holding pen a 'Free Speech Zone"! The first thing that came to my mind was the chant often sung at protest rallies, "Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like."

Now I am at the part of this essay that I can't bring myself to write. How do I describe the sense of dread that crawled under my skin as I observed that there were only two entrance/exits to this long narrow cage enclosed with two chain link fences, covered with a mesh net, topped with two rolls of razor wire. Let me tell you what came to my mind the moment I realized where I was standing: If something terrible were to happen while this area was full of demonstrators - something as simple as someone yelling "fire" or something as sinister as the release of a chemical agent - there would be no way to escape. Let me repeat this - there would be no way to escape. No way to escape! This is not an accident.

I cannot describe the physical aspects of this abomination of our democracy without crying. Rather, I've posted the photos on my website for you to see for yourself at http://www.cpr4democracy.com/TheBostonCage1.cfm. After you see these photos, I pose this question to you, my fellow Americans, "Why would anyone agree to voluntarily place themselves in this enclosure?"

Who paid for this? Who approved it? Who imagined that those of us who are smart enough to see through the treachery of our current government, would actually submit to being confined here? Are we criminals for voicing our opinion? That's the not-so-subliminal message being sent here. If the media were to actually film a demonstration in this pen, would we not look like criminals to anyone seeing us on TV? "Beware, this is what will happen to you if you dare to question the system."

In my well of emotional experiences, the closest I can come to describing the gut wrenching shock that gripped me in this cage is being brokenhearted. I love my country. I love her enough that I have dedicated the rest of my life to her care and wellbeing. But my country doesn't love me back. She has betrayed me with lies and doublespeak.

I walked up to the police that were standing at the entrance and introduced myself as a journalist. "I was wondering if you could tell me your feelings about this enclosure," I asked them. They looked like they could be my neighbors, a guy sitting next to me on the train, the fathers of my nieces' friends... One cop said that they were not permitted to say anything while they were in uniform. Ah yes, I thought, they've already relinquished their freedom of speech.

"I was just wondering, maybe... as a fellow human being, as a fellow American... as a Bostonian... aren't you ashamed?" I asked. I know I shouldn't have said that. They are just doing their job. I should keep my big mouth shut. I should be willing to only speak my mind when caged in barbed wire, out of the public eye, where no one can hear me, or see me cry.

I walked back to the T-stop, past pubs where everyday working people were drinking beer and watching the Red Sox game on TV screens above the bar. Would they even notice the difference when this country is no longer a democracy? Will they continue to believe that clear skies and free speech still exist, here in the Cradle of Liberty? What difference does it make, as long as their team wins.
See also:
http://www.cpr4democracy.com/TheBostonCage1.cfm
http://www.cpr4democracy.com/TheNostonCage2.cfm