Who Will Tell the Stories of Dissent?
My city of Oakland, California was in the news recently -- not just in every Bay Area newspaper, but around the country. Pictures of young peaceful Americans fired at by the Oakland's finest with wooden dowels, bean bags, concussion grenades and "sting grenades" (rubber pellets accompanied by tear gas) highlight America's hypocritical attempt at being a democracy, a champion of human rights and a nation of civil liberties. But dissent is growing -- reaching new barometric levels as national leaders abdicate their responsibility as elected officials and turn into warmongers.
The morning of Monday, April 7, about 400-500 anti-war protestors took their place in front of the American President Lines terminal at the Oakland port while a smaller contingent of other picketers marched in front of the entrance to Stevedoring Services of America, chanting, "APL and SSA how many kids have you killed today?"
Both companies are contracted to ship war cargo. As demonstrators marched slowly, police formed a line and moved forward, warning the protestors to move. Before most had time to move, they were fired at indiscriminately. A protestor, as he tried to get out of the way, was hit as many as nine times, including once in the nose.
Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's depressing response? "Police acted appropriately in dealing with protestors who wanted to occupy and take over the port and shut it down. The city was not going to let it happen." The mayor said nothing about the excessive use of force or police violence.
At the same time, at the Concord Naval Weapons station, a dozen activists were arrested after they crossed yellow police tape and knelt peacefully in front of a line of police officers. In San Francisco, the California Highway Patrol arrested protestors who stopped morning commute traffic and were distributing juice and pastries to motorists, along with flyers apologizing for the inconvenience. They were charged with conspiring to block traffic, while others were cited for trespassing when they tried to meet with Sen. Diane Feinstein. In the United States of America it is an offense to try to meet your elected officials when they fail to represent you.
Not withstanding what democracy looks like in the U.S. today, tens of thousands of American citizens have turned in petitions calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft for committing war crimes and failing to uphold the American Constitution. These actions form the basis of a new American Revolution against a new King George -- a struggle to take back the nation from war profiteers and the "oiligarchy" in Washington DC. These patriotic freedom fighters work alongside their global compatriots, united in their goal for social justice and peace for all.
Newspapers in the United States did not report that while antiwar demonstrators were being fired at in Oakland, another action was taking place in the Sydney harbor in Australia. Makes me wonder if the global media will have the courage to share the stories of activists who fought the war on Iraq and the war on the poor around the world. An African proverb says, "Until the lions can tell their stories, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter." Who will tell our stories?
On Tuesday, April 8, three weeks to the day after protestors scaled the Sydney Opera House to paint, "No War" on its sails, Australia experienced a second citizen action. After being waved off by Prime Minister Howard, HMAS Sydney pulled out of the port headed toward Iraq -- its belly crawling with its 230-strong crew and enough weaponry to repel air, surface, and submarine attacks -- Greenpeace activists in inflatables and jet boats sped out of the adjacent coves. Pulling close to the bow of the 138m-long Sydney, peace activists hoisted themselves up to attach a "No War" banner that remained on its bow for an hour. Then Greenpeace radioed HMAS Sydney to advise the crew that two divers were directly in the frigate's path. One was ex-Army, and other ex-Australian Defense Force personnel!
The Australian Prime Minister urged the media to show support for the troops by downplaying and condemning the Greenpeace action. The San Francisco Chronicle released a field poll on April 8 under the headline, "63% in the Bay Area Support War to Remove Dictator." It was based on a poll of 1,006 California residents to which 204 responded. The elected officials need the media machinery to support their immoral and unjust war.
It will take more than media spin and official lies to curb the global movement for peace. This movement will keep growing until there is an end to the unilateral use of force by the United States. This movement will not rest until Bush, Blair and Howard are tried for crimes against humanity. It will not slow down until the United States becomes a true member of the global community and abides by all human rights conventions, disarmament agreements, International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol.
In the meantime, thank you Greenpeace, Act Against War, Answer, Code Pink and the hundreds of thousands of groups and individuals around the world who continue to show us the true face of democracy. We need to tell their stories. Yes, dissent is growing.
Anuradha Mittal is co-director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy.