There are very few people outside of the nation that he once lead that can doubt that Chairman Mao was an evil son of a dog. Under his reign, his orders lead to a bodycount that likely doubled the combined efforts of Stalin and Hitler. With that in mind, he seems like a strange person to go to for wisdom, but from his unique perspective as one of histories greatest murderers, there is a quote that is attributed to him, that I think is being demonstrated before our very eyes today:
Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. - Mao
The most blatant examples of this truth are in the reactions of the uprisings of common men from the Middle East to Seattle. The degree of response is not equivalent and I do not mean to equate these struggles, precisely. But the thing they have in common is that men stand up and speak, and when they do, they are met with fists and weapons.
In the United States, I am speaking of the Occupy Wall Street and related Occupy protests. These have been a source of some controversy and their detractors have loved to point out vile things that have occurred in and around the encampments, the actions of less than 1% of the protestors held by those opponents as typical of the over 100,000 people who have spoken out against the influence of money in US policy. But more than the response of a few online forum dwellers, the reaction from the establishment has been chilling.
There can be no doubt that the OWS and related protestors have broken laws. Most of these offenses have been minor in nature: trespassing and vandalism. But the tools that officials have used to then enforce these laws have been something you probably won't see the average officer using to nab the average paint-spray wielding tagger: Tear gas. Pepper spray. Flash bang grenades. Riot armor. Armored Personnel Carriers. LRAD sonic weapons.
These are not bullets and bombs, to be sure, but they are an impressive display of force none the less. The reason why this is disconcerting is that the movement they are opposing has been, by and large, a non-violent one. As I said before, there have been incidents where a few protestors have stepped over the line into doing damage, but these have been the exception, not the rule. The bulk of the protestors have done nothing more violent than camp.
But still, people have been put into the hospital by the police. The actions of law enforcement and local government have prompted wide debate on the use of reasonable force in the arena of civil disobedience. And justly so.
We are American, a people who have developed a system wherein we can settle the majority of our debates with words rather than arms. We vote and we consider this to be a great expression of our freedom, the hope that every man who wishes to will have his say in the public arena. Other nations envy our ability to stroll up to the ballot box and to participate in our own governance without having to brave gunfire or imprisonment; they fight to have what we take for granted.
And yet, here we have a group who is not, as a whole, rioting or threatening the lives of citizens, but talking. Perhaps too much only to themselves, but they are talking. And rather than words, they are met with blows.
It's easy to say that their response is justified because they are not using the system. They're camping in places that aren't posted campgrounds, people point out; what do they expect? And yet, this is the low end of what civil disobedience looks like. The shock and awe that has come as a retort is incongruous with any crime these protestors have been accused of.
It seems that the government is growing impatient with the messy process of debate and the presentation of opposing ideas. They are becoming more enamored with the expediency of force.
This might seem a complete over-reaction to the efforts of police to keep the peace, but before you dismiss my conclusion or premise as paranoia, I ask you to consider this: There is a bill that was just passed by the Senate, at the time of this writing, that could declare any American Citizen an enemy combatant. Once so declared, they can be arrested, held without charge indefinitely, tried by military tribunal without the benefit of civil due process and simply disappear.
President Barack Obama has said he would likely veto this bill. As it is also the bill that provides for our military's funding in a time of war, the National Defense Authorization Act, the certainty of that veto is in question, however. The bill still has to be rectified with the version put forth by the House of Representatives, but the language is still there. It does not require that citizens be dealt with as terrorists, but it allows for it, at a time when terrorism has become defined as "anything we don't like".
We have seen what a few people camping has prompted the establishment to rain down upon their heads. Imagine, if this bill were signed into law, what leeway it would give the government, what tools it would hand them to quiet dissent. Even if you consider the people who hold office in Congress and the Executive branch to be beyond using that authority to do ill, this legislation would outlive them and there is no guarantee that future occupants of those offices would not make happen what must never happen here, not in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
Freedom is messy. It requires risk and tolerance of things that we might not choose for ourselves. It requires inclusiveness and courage. It requires sacrifice and it requires, should it be challenged, the willingness to stand up by word and deed and, gods forbid we see it on our soil, by blood if necessary. Freedom is a noble cause and a treasure to have, but what it is not is convenient.
Have we grown so lazy, so cowardly, that we cannot bear that inconvenience?
Why are we choosing to demonstrate just how right Chairman Mao was?
Let's hope that we return to the arena of words and forgo the easier tools of violence before they become not the exception, but the rule.