- the mantra of modern power

In a society where it sometimes seems that we are offered nearly unlimited freedom, it often puzzles people when they discover that their freedom has suddenly been restricted in illogical and brutal ways.

Thus, mild mannered folk singers discover that their excruciatingly boring songs have been banned, people who make cogent legal arguments about the manner in which a protester was arrested get a quick squirt of pepper spray in the eyes, and people are surprised to discover that despite laws to the contrary, nearly every phone call and e-mail they have ever made has been monitored by unaccountable secret agencies.

Invariably, there is a hue and cry about the injustice and unconstitutionality of this latest atrocity, and a demand that natural human rights be respected. And invariably, a big fat silent raspberry is blown in the demander's direction.

Meanwhile, every conveivable variety of disgusting porn is freely available online, including variations that involve children and animals. People chit-chat openly about smoking and growing marijuana (an ostensibly illegal act). Grey bearded professors discuss the relative merits of classical Marxism and Bakuninian anarchism as tactics of revolutionary struggle. Swingers clubs, cocaine dealers, sadomasochist dungeons, NAMBLA, communists and anarchists go about meeting and doing their business quite freely.

The truth is, the people who really run society would quite happily use the Constitution to light their cigar. They only care about two things: profits and enough stability to ensure more of the same. They saw the way places like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union went. Total disrespect for authority. Armed guerillas. Rampant theft and corruption. Renegade poet dissident intellectuals. And eventually, total collapse of the system followed.

The people who own the world today are determined to see that this sort of shit doesn't happen to them. You will have lots of freedom. You will write whatever goddamn silly ass poetry you want to, and nobody will listen. You can assure yourself as much as you want to that your constitutional freedom is protected by law. You can also break certain laws with near impunity to convince yourself you're a rebel. And most importantly, you can fuck anyone and anything in any damn way that pleases you. People get real hung up on that one.

You also have a freedom that has become a social duty. It is to buy as much stuff as you can possibly afford. No hoarding now kids, this is for the good of your country. Get a credit card and buy for Christmas! Anal dildos! DVD players with a complimentary selection of multiple camera angle Max Hardcore discs! Crack pipes and handblown glass bongs! The collected works of Karl Marx and Kropotkin! Buy revolution, buy sex, buy drugs, but don't forget to buy.

The reality is, freedom exists only so far as it shuts you up and convinces you to buy things. The moment your actions go beyond that, you are shut down, technically legal or not. Don't waste your breath talking about how America is a free country or how unconstitutional the DMCA is or whatever. If your desires fall within the invisible wall allotted you, they live and die happy. If not, then act silently. But don't expect your whining to be taken seriously in a society where you can do anything you want, as long as it's not important.

As detailed in the introduction to Cities of the Red Night, by William S. Burroughs, just prior to the establishment of large-scale colonies on the American continents, there were a series of so-called pirate utopias along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. At least one of these was founded on principles very similar to those enshrined in your US constitution, but it only lasted a short time before natives overran and destroyed it.

You can't do this any more, but I want to. America was founded on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and I hate the country for betraying it so completely.

You're born into it, you're told you're free, but you don't have the freedom to opt out and try to do better yourself. The land's all taken, the rules are all laid down, and there's enough comforting bribes to make sure that only those possessed of some overriding ideal ever even want to break out, and there's too few of them to have the power to do anything.

Leastways, that's the theory. Everybody I speak to hates the way the world is going. Here in New Zealand, people my age (19) can just about remember clean air and beaches and a time when the waste of the rest of the world didn't force us to cover ourselves up just to avoid cancer. It hurts my fucking skin when I expose it to direct sunlight. Humanity has the scientific method, the historical sense, the understanding of how it all works (or rather, an idea of how to figure that out), and the only people using it are the people who got fat off the way things are. Yes, weathervane, they've learned from all the revolutions that have ever been, they've learned that the hardcore idealist revolutionaries like Jefferson ("I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man") are the only ones who will revolt simply because it is right to do so. The rest will only revolt if you fuck with them overtly, enough to actually seriously piss them off. D'you think the coonskin-capped settlers and southern slave-owners revolted for an ideal of freedom? D'you think the office drones or the crotch potatoes or the Ivy League will ever decide to simply become more free?

What our rulers have learned is how to keep people from caring about the big things by burying them under a swarm of small things.

For me, anyway, small things just aren't enough any more.

One is ashamed of not being richer in heart and in everything else, and of having, after all judged humanity lower than it really is. ~ Céline, Journey To The End Of The Night, (1932)

Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatsoever. ~ Martin Amis (The Guardian, June 1, 2002)
      There is a thudding reverberation pulsing through the rain-filled sky between the office towers. Whistles, bullhorns, drums and chants echo up into the looming Ottawa offices, consulates and boardrooms. Silvery streaks of rain seem to hang in mid-air. The chop-chop drone of the low circling police helicopter rebounds against a maze of mirrored glass through which the protest winds. Just two blocks ahead, three thousand enthusiastic demonstrators announce their terms to the electronic ether and pockets of wary onlookers huddled around building lobbies. Fair Trade, Not Free Trade!; We Will Not Ask Permission To Be Free; End Global Apartheid; Participatory Economics! Energetic and earnest folk with a message for change. By contrast, my vantage is somewhat lagging, by roughly 100 metres & several gradients of sincerity. Just struggling to keep pace, at least a hundred uniformed officers from three levels of police jurisdiction are advancing close behind us. “Us” because I was only just managing to disentangle myself from both a slippery bike frame and even slippier argument. A young lady in her early twenties has taken me gently to task for righting a trashed paper box:
Yeah, but it’s the MEDIA. Like the Post, you know? Their coverage is SO biased. CanWest sucks!
      Originally antagonistic, she now seems genuinely curious to hear a justification for tidying up after your fellow marchers. Certainly her point about monopolistic corporate media ownership with its rabidly-rightist editorial bent is rock solid. The co-owned National Post, Ottawa Citizen & Global News offer continuous examples of shoddy, jingoistic coverage, editorial censorship and all the problems endemic to concentration of information control. No argument there. Only problem is ...
But that waddint a box for either - so what’s the point? So the news tonight can show some kid tossing it about?
      She smiles at that for some reason. The news cameras, which were filming us just a second ago, seeing there won`t be a confrontation between us, have already gone back to filming the police. She motions with her head to one of the withdrawing cameramen. She could be proving her point or mine.
They certainly won`t be showing you putting it back: “Local boy does good. Saves Box.”

      She raises a black pennant and is grinning ear to ear now as I nod and ride off. She was right. One sanctimonious act does not deserve or forgive another. The protest continues, now winding its way through the streets and intersections around the trendy courtyard amphitheatre of the World Exchange Plaza and the poured-cement brutalism of the Public Library. Dancing foam dragons breathe symbolic fire over the heads of radical puppeteers, two narrow phalanxes of drummers beat out the march rhythm on empty water cooler jugs, red balloons and inflatable butterflies are pulled by the baby carriages of protesting moms. The wet banners and flags go up again over the shoulders of the chanting crowd:

Fund Our Schools Please! ~ Protect Our Environment! ~ Save Our Water! ~ Stop Drugging Our Food!

      I read in the paper yesterday, between 1997-2000 small investors, government bureaus and the big banks plowed trillions into major telecom, biotech and net start-ups. In the last 24 months, thousands of those companies and their CEO`s have dissolved, vanished, along with $7 trillion US. Caught in the midst a swarm of environmentalists, labour rights activists and global justice advocates handing out leaflets or stickers at every corner, desperate to get their point across to anyone who could listen, I tried to imagine what these people could accomplish with seven trillion and what the world might look like. How many more lives improved rather than pockets lined? A few hours later, after the day`s marches have ended peacefully, the nightly local news is a glaring disappointment; the sheer obviousness of the commentary and lack of depth into issues gives it an unreal and hollow feel. The tired truth of television news coverage comes floating back from media studies class; that it tends to “flatten out” and deaden every experience, particularly complex events. There is little discussion and the only interviews are with police and people in cars. The only detailed footage fixates on the attempted arrest at the start of the march and a slow-motion of a single masked protester writing “Question Capitalism!” on the front of the Bank of Canada building. The fact it was written with pastel chalk & that it washed off in the rain almost immediately did not seem to bear mentioning. Determined to witness the real event as it unfolded for once as opposed to how it was framed by some intervening reporter, and despite all reservations and misgiving to the contrary, the next day in front of the heavily guarded American Embassy I found myself thinking, it is happening again.


      The March of A Thousand Flags, June 27, 2002, begins in the expansive park and field across from the black iron gates and mirrored windows of the US embassy in the Market section of Ottawa. A wall of uniformed RCMP stand shoulder to shoulder just inside the cement blockades on the roadside along the back wall of the building. Police vans block traffic and each intersection. More news crews and bike cops edge along the periphery of the grounds itself, as the collected crowd grows by the minute. By one p.m. there are close to five thousand assembled. Fight the Power booms from a PA system at the head of the crowd; many more children and seniors seem to have joined the ranks of the students today. There are church groups, Raging Grannies, kids dressed as dolphins and turtles. The air was heaving wet, with clouds dark and low, as thunder signalled from the north. For the second day in a row, journalists grumbled as they water-proofed their cameras and donned their rain gear, telegraphing with tired sighs their professional preferences for dry, air-conditioned press conference gigs. Fat droplets of rain begin to plunk down through the viscous air and four thousand faces swivel and beam in unison as lighting licks the horizon.
      No one announces the march commencement. Like the day before, police make an initial early gambit to establish their presence: this time they threaten to tow a van which one of the Montreal groups have rigged with loudspeakers. About 100 of the Québec syndicalist-Subcommandante Marcos kids break off in a panic to save their wheels (and who knows what else) from impoundment. There seems now only a vague route planned, winding around the functionalist barriers of the American Embassy onto the Department of National Defence headquarters and finally to Parliament Hill. As the long parade of banners, umbrellas, flags, puppets and signs dance themselves hastily into a start position, uniformed RCMP and OPP brandish digital mini-cams, moving to flank both sides of the intersection with unmarked vans and fifteen officers each. The marchers swell into the street regardless, stretching almost a quarter-mile into the park, but now congregating 100 ft. from the northeast corner of the embassy, now raising a sea of placards: Jews for A Free Palestine, ATTAC: Quebec, Solidatite avec Palestine, Justice Knows No Borders, No One Is Illegal: Open the borders!, Stop Violating Human Rights, IWW: Global Resistance, Women of Colour Coalition, Arrest Kissinger, People Before Profit! The brown solid marble walls, re-enforced gates and the mirrored glass minarets of the embassy loom stoically nearby while clearly-marked Legal Observers circulate throughout the crowd. From atop the War Monument across the street, while shutter-bugging, I can see a guy from high school offering two RCMP in bullet-proof vests what looks like the Socialist Worker 1 , his expression an ironic, obsequent smirk.


      The singing, the chanting, the dancing. The Black Bloc in smiling behind their masks marching arm in arm with the Raging Grannies in colourful wide-brimmed sunhats. The man in Dubya costume with the sign “Come for the Cronyism, Stay for the Bombing!” The stone faces of the RCMP, the confused looks of the passers-by, the bored faces of the camera crews. That is when the futility of it all settles over the scene - that even with a few thousand here and there - no one takes this very seriously. Despite every idea and demand being echoed by another headline: even the New York Times admits 100s of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even the Washington Post documents the corporate malfeasance & insider trading of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, even the Wall Street Journal decries the immorality found in boardrooms across the continent. 2 These are hardly publications run by radicals, even the Establishment has joined the tragic chorus. But it matters not a whit, because no one truly cares. They yell, shout, scream for us to wake up, their arms and fists raised to heaven, clenched in slo-mo as the rain comes down. I can almost hear their voices drowned out, mouthing in silence ( the first movement of Bach`s Mass in B Minor in my head). It is precisely that shimmering air of futility that makes the gesture of protest meaningful, even more important, and certainly more poignant. Most of us are stunned almost insensate by the sea change over the past year; we have trouble integrating it all. It seems like everything we were being warned about - political corruption, terrorist conspiracy, sectarian violence, corporate pillage, citizen surveillance, military propaganda - that whole familiar lament from the fringe; in the past year, like some bloody Jacobean revenge play, it all came true.3 That is why so many dismiss the protesters even more vehemently than before. Not out of self-assuredness. It's because no one likes to hear I told you so.

End Report.
Back to Start
Pictures: http://ottawa.indymedia.ca/2002/06/381.shtml (guy in white t-shirt on bike= your faithful recorder)

As your askew commentator, I'm compelled to make an additional embarrassing admission, namely that my first and only major run-in and interrogation by agents of law and order stemmed from a summer of bored malfeasance, recklessness, theft and general nonsense, one of the first incidents of which was torching a newspaper box.
Thanks anthropod (for challenging my tone about the protesters and making me think long and hard about my own political apathy) and Cletus the Foetus (for tempering my economic misgivings): a huge advantage to Everything as a reporting tool is that you get well-balanced editorial criticism from am extremely diverse range of opinion, making for balanced explication. Editorial boards of commercial news agencies would be so lucky.
1 A different guy the day before was hawking these in the park where the protest began: and I would have liked one to help with the write-up, but I did not have the “suggested donation” of a dollar. Now suddenly they are free - to the police. Staggering.
2 New York Times. Week in Review. Sunday, July 21, 2001. “Citizen Snoops Wanted (Call Toll-Free)” p.1 about the citizen-informant TIPS Programme; p. 14, “The Incredible Shrinking Stock Market: More than $7 Trillion, Gone”; p. 3, “The Global Cost of Crony Capitalism.” Front page headline: “Flaws in U.S. Air War Left Hundreds of Civilians Dead.” URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/21/international/asia/21CIVI.html. Who know what lies ahead as AOL-TimeWarner is forced to open its books, and the Bush Administration pump-prep the world for Gulf War II, just conveniently around the corner as he lags in the polls going into mid-term elections.
3 The United Nations now reports by 2050, 4.2 billion people will be living in countries what cannot meet the daily requirement of 50L of water per person to meet basic needs, while "the world's richest countries, with 20% of global population, account for 86% of total private consumption; the poorest 20% of the world's people account for just 1.3%. See State of the World 2001: http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2001/english/ch01.html.

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