John Whitehead's Commentary
We’re All in This Together: A Case for Not Giving Up on the American Dream
“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”—Benjamin Franklin
Listen: we don’t have to agree about everything.
We don’t even have to agree about most things.
We don’t have to love each other. We don’t even have to like each other. And we certainly don’t need to think alike or dress alike or worship alike or vote alike or love alike. But if this experiment in freedom is to succeed—and there are some days the outlook is decidedly grim—then we’ve got to find some way of relating to one another that is not toxic or partisan or hateful or so self-righteous that we’re doomed to failure before we even start.
America has been a warring nation—a military empire intent on occupation and conquest—for so long that perhaps we, the citizens of this warring nation, have forgotten what it means to live in peace, with the world and one another.
We’d better get back to the fundamentals of what it means to be human beings who can get along if we want to have any hope of restoring some semblance of sanity, civility and decency to what is progressively being turned into a foul-mouthed, hot-headed free-for-all bar fight by politicians for whom this is all one big, elaborate game designed to increase their powers and fatten their bank accounts.
Maybe Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was right: maybe all we really need to know about “how to live and what to do and how to be” is as simple as remembering the basic life lessons we were taught as children.
What were those lessons? Fulghum reminds us:
Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody…. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together…. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess. And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
The powers-that-be want us to forget these basic lessons in how to get along. They want us to fume and rage and be so consumed with fighting the so-called enemies in our midst that we never notice the prison walls closing in around us.
Don’t be distracted.
No matter what happens in the next presidential election, no matter how many ways the powers-that-be attempt to sow division and distrust among the populace, no matter how many shouting commentators perpetuate the belief that there is only one “right” view and one “wrong” view in politics, the only “us vs. them” that will matter is whether “we the people” care enough to stand united in our commitment to the principles on which this nation was founded: freedom, justice, and equality for all.
The rest is just noise intended to distract us from the fact that life in America has become a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking, misery-drenched, demoralizing existence, and it’s the government that is responsible.
Even so, here’s why I’m not giving up on the American dream of freedom, and—despite all the reasons to the contrary—why you shouldn’t either: because this is still our country.
I’m outraged at what has been done to our freedoms and our country. You should be, too.
We have been subjected to crackdowns, clampdowns, shutdowns, showdowns, shootdowns, standdowns, knockdowns, putdowns, breakdowns, lockdowns, takedowns, slowdowns, meltdowns, and never-ending letdowns.
We’ve been held up, stripped down, faked out, photographed, frisked, fracked, hacked, tracked, cracked, intercepted, accessed, spied on, zapped, mapped, searched, shot at, tasered, tortured, tackled, trussed up, tricked, lied to, labeled, libeled, leered at, shoved aside, saddled with debt not of our own making, sold a bill of goods about national security, tuned out by those representing us, tossed aside, and taken to the cleaners.
We’ve had our freedoms turned inside out, our democratic structure flipped upside down, and our house of cards left in a shambles.
We’ve been told that as citizens we have no rights within 100 miles of our own border, now considered “Constitution-free zones.”
We’ve seen the police transformed from community peacekeepers to point guards for the militarized corporate state. The police continue to push, prod, poke, probe, scan, shoot and intimidate the very individuals—we the taxpayers—whose rights they were hired to safeguard. Networked together through fusion centers, police have surreptitiously spied on our activities and snooped on our communications, using hi-tech devices provided by the Department of Homeland Security.
We’ve been deemed suspicious for engaging in such dubious activities as talking too long on a cell phone and stretching too long before jogging, dubbed extremists and terrorists for criticizing the government and suggesting it is tyrannical or oppressive, and subjected to forced colonoscopies and anal probes for allegedly rolling through a stop sign.
We’ve been arrested for all manner of “crimes” that never used to be considered criminal, let alone uncommon or unlawful, behavior: letting our kids walk to the playground alone, giving loose change to a homeless man, feeding the hungry, and living off the grid.
We’ve been sodomized, victimized, jeopardized, demoralized, traumatized, stigmatized, vandalized, demonized, polarized and terrorized, often without having done anything to justify such treatment. Blame it on a government mindset that renders us guilty before we’ve even been charged, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing. In this way, law-abiding individuals have had their homes mistakenly raided by SWAT teams that got the address wrong. One accountant found himself at the center of a misguided (armed) police standoff after surveillance devices confused his license plate with that of a drug felon.
We’ve been railroaded into believing that our votes count, that we live in a republic or a democracy, that elections make a difference, that it matters whether we vote Republican or Democrat, and that our elected officials are looking out for our best interests. Truth be told, we live in an oligarchy, politicians represent only the profit motives of the corporate state, whose leaders know all too well that there is no discernible difference between red and blue politics, because there is only one color that matters in politics: green.
We’ve gone from having privacy in our inner sanctums to having nowhere to hide, with smart pills that monitor the conditions of our bodies, homes that spy on us (with smart meters that monitor our electric usage and thermostats and light switches that can be controlled remotely) and cars that listen to our conversations, track our whereabouts and report them to the police. Even our cities have become wall-to-wall electronic concentration camps, with police now able to record hi-def video of everything that takes place within city limits.
We’ve had our schools locked down and turned into prisons, our students handcuffed, shackled and arrested for engaging in childish behavior such as food fights, our children’s biometrics stored, their school IDs chipped, their movements tracked, and their data bought, sold and bartered for profit by government contractors, all the while they are treated like criminals and taught to march in lockstep with the police state.
We’ve been rendered enemy combatants in our own country, denied basic due process rights, held against our will without access to an attorney or being charged with a crime, and left to waste away in jail until such a time as the government is willing to let us go or allow us to defend ourselves.
We’ve had the very military weapons we funded with our hard-earned tax dollars used against us, from unpiloted, weaponized drones tracking our movements on the nation’s highways and byways and armored vehicles, assault rifles, sound cannons and grenade launchers in towns with little to no crime to an arsenal of military-grade weapons and equipment given free of charge to schools and universities.
We’ve been silenced, censored and forced to conform, shut up in free speech zones, gagged by hate crime laws, stifled by political correctness, muzzled by misguided anti-bullying statutes, and pepper sprayed for taking part in peaceful protests.
We’ve been shot by police for reaching for a license during a traffic stop, reaching for a baby during a drug bust, carrying a toy sword down a public street, and wearing headphones that hamper our ability to hear.
We’ve had our tax dollars spent on $30,000 worth of Starbucks for Department of Homeland Security employees, $630,000 in advertising to increase Facebook “likes” for the State Department, and close to $25 billion to fund projects ranging from the silly to the unnecessary, such as laughing classes for college students and programs teaching monkeys to play video games and gamble.
We’ve been treated like guinea pigs, targeted by the government and social media for psychological experiments on how to manipulate the masses. We’ve been tasered for talking back to police, tackled for taking pictures of police abuses, and threatened with jail time for invoking our rights. We’ve even been arrested by undercover cops stationed in public bathrooms who interpret men’s “shaking off” motions after urinating to be acts of lewdness.
We’ve had our possessions seized and stolen by law enforcement agencies looking to cash in on asset forfeiture schemes, our jails privatized and used as a source of cheap labor for megacorporations, our gardens smashed by police seeking out suspicious-looking plants that could be marijuana, and our buying habits turned into suspicious behavior by a government readily inclined to view its citizens as terrorists.
We’ve had our cities used for military training drills, with Black Hawk helicopters buzzing the skies, Urban Shield exercises overtaking our streets, and active shooter drills wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bystanders in our schools, shopping malls and other “soft target” locations.
We’ve been told that national security is more important than civil liberties, that police dogs’ noses are sufficient cause to carry out warrantless searches, that the best way not to get raped by police is to “follow the law,” that what a police officer says in court will be given preference over what video footage shows, that an upright posture and acne are sufficient reasons for a cop to suspect you of wrongdoing, that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous tip, and that police officers have every right to shoot first and ask questions later if they feel threatened.
Are you outraged yet?
You should be. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and right these wrongs.
Stop waiting patiently for change to happen, stop waiting for some politician to rescue you, and take responsibility for your freedoms: start by fixing what’s broken in your lives, in your communities, and in this country.
Get mad, get outraged, get off your duff and get out of your house, get in the streets, get in people’s faces, get down to your local city council, get over to your local school board, get your thoughts down on paper, get your objections plastered on protest signs, get your neighbors, friends and family to join their voices to yours, get your representatives to pay attention to your grievances, get your kids to know their rights, get your local police to march in lockstep with the Constitution, get your media to act as watchdogs for the people and not lapdogs for the corporate state, get your act together, and get your house in order.
Appearances to the contrary, this country does not belong exclusively to the corporations or the special interest groups or the oligarchs or the war profiteers or any particular religious, racial or economic demographic.
This country belongs to all of us: each and every one of us—“we the people”—but most especially, this country belongs to those of us who love freedom enough to stand and fight for it.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are fast approaching the point at which we will have nothing left to lose.
Don’t wait for things to get that bad before you find your voice and your conscience. By then, it will be too late.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s character reflects in The Gulag Archipelago:
How we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if … during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?... The cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If...if...We didn't love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation.... We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.
Take your stand now—using every nonviolent means at your disposal—while you still can.
Don’t wait to reflect back on missed opportunities to push back against tyranny.
Don’t wait until you’re the last one standing.
Time is running out.