[Editor's Note: The following originally ran on the website Talking Points Memo
Our liberties are by no means safe and our status as a real constitutional Republic is beyond fragile. On October 1, 2008, President Bush deployed the First Brigade of the Third Infantry Division — three to four thousand battle-hardened warriors — to...somewhere in the United States. Their original stated mission according to Army Times was 'crowd control' and 'subduing unruly individuals.' They have lethal and nonlethal technologies and tanks. After some questions were raised — not, I note, by anyone in the mainstream media, which has bizarrely ignored this massive subversion of 200 years of our having been protected by the 1807 Insurrection Act and by 1879's Posse Comitatus from being policed at home by military forces — the Northcom PR people changed the stated goal of the mission to 'protecting communities affected by weapons of mass destruction.' Still, I would have thought, a story — and so thank the hundreds of citizens who are contacting me trying to find out more. For those commentators who do not yet think our liberties are at risk, I would direct their attention to the use of military forces as a source of intimidation of voters in a closely held election that is characteristic of closing societies around the world.
Just this past two or three weeks, the White House proposed a bailout bill with little oversight initially included, and passed one that has a provision that allows the IRS to turn your tax information over to other agencies without a warrant — forever. Again, this provision is buried so deep within the bailout bill that no media have reported the story. Last week on the website of our citizens' democracy movement we put up footage of brutal abuse of protesters at the RNC — and the mass arrest of ordinary American students and families sitting peacefully in the sun doing nothing at all — that only survived because the person who took the footage buried it in the ground before his arrest; police and unidentified agents confiscated the cameras and video equipment of other documenters or destroyed their digital images. And just two days ago a 24-year-old veteran of the Iraq war, who went with a group of fellow young vets to the Presidential debates to ask about why veterans' issues are not being addressed, was trampled so badly by a police officer on horseback who drove his horse into the crowd that he is still in the hospital; his young friend was at an event of mine trying to raise some money for his hospital bills.
Is this America?
And if this is not our America, whose job is it to lead us back onto the right path?
I would say that it is striking that so little of the discussion about "what is to be done" about the erosion of our liberties centers on what citizens from all walks of life can do rather than on what elites and formal national institutions can do. I would say that the crisis we face is exposing above all how severely corrupted many of our elite institutions are — from the mainstream press, which is not covering these stories, to the parties of the candidates who are not talking about wiretapping and torture. From the raters of financial products, exposed recently in the Utne reader as having known that they were overblowing the value of the products they endorsed because they derived profit from doing so, leading to the Ponzi-scheme collapse that is destroying ordinary Americans' life savings in a heartbeat.
The real salvation is going to come from citizens and not from the top of these ossified institutions. I have argued recently that citizens have been bombarded for thirty years now with a messaging about 'fake patriotism' to lead them to accept what I call 'fake democracy', which holds a smaller and smaller space for their leadership and their rights. Citizens then must learn, as we are teaching them to in our democracy movement, to create the media themselves by writing the op-eds, leaking stories to reporters, framing the news, doing radio and television, and documenting by blogging as citizen journalists. They must run for office themselves, hold the debates themselves at a town and city-wide level, rather than leaving the discussion to Fox News or CNN; they must learn to fundraise for their own nonprofits and political campaigns, start their own political movements, and expose government abuses themselves. They must come to the realization that a false left-right divide has been whipped up by vested interests—from think tanks and nonprofits to lobbyists and corporate media—to keep citizens diverted by inflated ideological warfare rather tan forming common cause against those very vested interests that would be threatened by a truly empowered citizenry whose partnership transcend party lines on issues of concern to all.
A truism going around grassroots communities of all kinds right now is that the thinking that got us into this mess is not going to be the thinking that gets us out of it. The solutions to this crisis wont be provided by the same entrenched leaders and elite institutions that have misled and manipulated the nation's citizens for so long; they will be provided, if they are to be provided at all, by the creativity and energy of ordinary Americans themselves — once they realize that it is pointless to wait for leadership; that the leadership they need will come from within.