The following text is re-blogged with permission from JoslynStevens.com from her blog post entitled “Q & A with Sarah Reynolds.” Joslyn is a social justice activist who promotes income equality and the #RaiseTheWage movement, like myself. I was lucky enough to receive a DM from her asking me if I would like to be interviewed as part of her series of weekly Q & A’s with people who are making a progressive difference in our country and the world. We share a love of Jesse Ventura, Ralph Nader, and the Bill of Rights, and I admire her independent, 3rd party-loving passion and drive for truth and justice so of course I couldn’t wait to see what awesome topics she would come up with for me to write about. Please check out her blog when you have a chance and be sure to follow her on twitter at @JoslynStevens. If you enjoy her thought-provoking questions below, please click here to be taken directly to the original post in order to like and share. And if you enjoyed my thought-provoking answers, please like this post. Your comments are welcome, as always. Especially from any patriots who might want to be interviewed in Nathan Hale Park and talk about the (opposite of how a) Patriot (would) Act and closing Gitmo.
This week I spoke to Sarah Reynolds, author, messenger, and millennial about our government’s abuse of its power, what it means to be a patriot, and why there’s still time for the Millennial generation to change things.
Last month in North Carolina over 80,000 people came out for a Moral Monday protest against extreme austerity and the other weekend close to 100,000 Australians protested the corruption of their prime minister and government. I know you are a big fan of signing online petitions to bring about change but it seems a more hands on approach is necessary. In terms of citizen engagement, do you think petitions are just as an effective form of activism as opposed to hitting the streets?
A. If not more effective. What I’ve noticed — and this is so so unfortunate — is that when people’s commute is lengthened by protesters in
the street blocking the flow of traffic, the protest’s purpose (to shed light on an injustice) is actually now associated in the bystander’s mind
with the pain and discomfort of an inconvenience. People are funny. If you piss them off on the way home from work, they’ll hate you for a long time. It’s that whole primal reward and punishment part of the brain we have to appeal to as activists if we’re going to motivate the unaware and inactive to read up on issues and take action.
It’s my thought that if those same number of activists spent the same number of hours door-knocking, registering people to vote, and organizing monthly meetups where people engage in calling, post-carding and letter writing to Congress, that we would get a lot further a lot faster in our efforts to achieve progress. I always tweet that a petition a day keeps the fascism away and then follow up with the line from the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting…the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Any time we exert pressure on our rulers (politicians) to get what we want instead of what monied interests want, we are petitioning authority. And sustained pressure will be the key to our progress – we’ve got to request and remind, request and remind. Hey, Congress, Mr President, this is what we want.
And then, we have to remind these elected officials that they work for us. The day we turn 18, we become the employer of 4 federal employees: the President, our 2 U.S. Senators, and our 1 U.S. Representative. Yes, elected officials have the authority, but we have the power — the power to keep them on the payroll or vote them out.
By the same token, the history in our country of the right to peacefully assemble is very interesting: the right to gather became enshrined in the
1st Amendment because the Crown had prevented the early American colonists from gathering and discussing the issues of the day by making town meetings illegal. Essentially, King George knew if people could get together and share ideas, they would soon start organizing and protesting injustice and revolting against tyranny. Organization is like rocket fuel to a movement. Additionally, I 100% agree with you that taking to the streets is a great way to publicize a cause — and as long as the emphasis is on signing a petition, and writing, and calling Congress as soon as everyone gets home, I’m all for it, as step 1 in a 2 Part Action Plan.
You are passionate about and committed to seeing Gitmo closed and filmed yourself calling Obama on this issue. Here we are over 5 years into Obama’s presidency and Guantanamo Bay is still open and at least 76 prisoners, who have been exonerated, remain captive. What’s going on?
A. There are two issues here: the transfer of the 76 cleared-for-release “detainees,” or as you more accurately put it, prisoners, and the remaining 79 men who really could be charged and tried for crime in federal court or a military commission. But Congress has repeatedly passed legislation that prevents them from being transferred to the United States from Cuba. President Obama said in January of this year that, “The executive branch must have the authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees.” Ironically, the desires of the executive branch shouldn’t have anything to do with why they get charged and tried in federal court.
They should get charged and tried in federal court because Camp Justice should never have come into existence; there should never have been off-the-grid interrogations at Gitmo or anywhere else. AUMF — the travesty of legislation known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in the wake of 9/11 — is the only thing that allowed a “detention facility” off US soil used to hold people indefinitely without charge or trial to be built in the first place. You know, they could hurry up and do the military commissions right at Gitmo. They’re not doing that because of lack of evidence or evidence that was obtained through torture – so by delaying trial, Fed Gov is essentially admitting that they couldn’t get the guilty verdicts they want. And the truth is that there is a very real possibility that men who are guilty of engaging in terrorist acts could go free after a not-guilty verdict is rendered because the burden of proof that a trial requires might not be satisfied.
There’s a cost/benefits analysis built into our justice system: the founding fathers, the framers of our constitution, believed that it would be better if a hundred guilty people went free (due to lack of satisfying the burden of proof) than for one single innocent person to end up imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. This was their mathematical formula — a justice to injustice ratio! — for calculating the value of preventing injustice. They valued preventing injustice (wrongful imprisonment) 100 times more than getting justice (“rightful” imprisonment). Our entire court system is predicated on this concept, the idea and ideal that the price to prevent injustice is the cost of lost justice, and the founders had decided that the resulting margin of error was one that society should accept and be happy to pay, for the greater good.
And for a very specific greater good: to protect the common man or woman from a corrupt government that would plant evidence and/or charge the innocent – as an act of retaliation for protesting that government corruption – with crimes they did not in fact commit. So the founders made the guilty conviction a lot harder than the not-guilty one: the prosecutor has to sell 12 people (a whole jury) on guilt whereas the defense attorney only has to sell one person on doubt of that guilt. So due process ends up being a lot like the Yelp review filter: not all the guilty get caught but only a very few innocent people end up wrongly categorized.
The other half of the delay is the incredible amount of money that is being made from Gitmo: 2.7 million dollars a year isn’t the cost of each Gitmo detainee – it’s the price. The cost is less, so there’s a profit. Just the building being open is causing the whole Bill of Rights-violating set-up to act as a source of profit for an untold number of people. And that is the primary reason I believe that Congress doesn’t budge on the transfers – the military industrial complex is lobbying against it, and that means lots of re-election campaign funding dollars for lots of representatives and senators. Again, sustained pressure is the key: request and remind, request and remind.
Like many others, I love Jesse Ventura’s no-bullshit approach to the truth especially when it comes to confronting the greed of the one percent. Ventura has held office before and isn’t ruling out a 2016 run. Why do think a presidential ticket of Jesse Ventura and Dennis Kucinich would be good for America?
A. Oh, yes — my dream ticket would have Ventura for President, Kucinich for Vice President. Call it the Progressive Patriot Party. I love Jesse
Ventura!! And I love Dennis Kucinich — the man carries a copy of the Constitution around with him in his pocket. I LOVE YOU, DENNIS, if you’re reading this. (Kidding … mostly kidding). But seriously. I was seventeen and a senior in high school when Jesse Ventura ran for Governor in Minnesota in the fall of ’98. I missed being old enough to vote for him by six weeks — I was so disappointed that I didn’t get to vote in that
election. I was so excited about him as an independent politician. He had such an aura about him, what you refer to, Joslyn, as the no-bullshit,
take-no-prisoners, doesn’t suffer-fools-gladly approach, along with this neighborly, down to earth, what we call a true Minnesotan, personality. He just says what he’s thinking.
He’s not trying to polish it up or impress anyone, he speaks the truth and isn’t afraid to make a mistake, knowing full well the media will beat him over the head with the reminder of it every chance they get. He can handle it. We know he wants minimal government interference in personal preferences and civil liberties (like gay marriage, drug use, abortion, etc) but he understands that some things are better socialized, like the military. He’s a SEAL so he gets that while we ought to have a military (what I call the original Department of Homeland Security), we certainly don’t need to be spending billions of dollars every year enriching private security contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, etc. Not only is it more expensive, it’s not wise to ever give anyone an incentive to prolong war.
What a dangerous game that kind of greed engenders — building F35′s that don’t fly is the tip of the iceberg. And Kucinich is such an old school democrat. He really understands that he is to represent the people in everything he does, and that without taking care of our planet, future generations will be left with a legacy of ever increasing cancer rates due to chemicals in the air and water, that no mater how cheap nuclear power is, the costs of the inevitable tragic meltdown are far greater — and he said this years before Fukushima. He wants us to be done with war for profit (voted against invading Iraq post-9/11) and supports Medicare for All, as just one step in achieving income equality. The man loves his country and everyone in it, let’s put it that way. He proposed a Department of Peace and wants us to pull out of NAFTA – I love this guy.
Many people-powered political uprisings have been the result of food insecurity, a global problem, in countries like Egypt. Here, we have over 46 million people living in poverty so we’re seeing more families going hungry and food pantries popping up on college campuses. Given repeated cuts to the SNAP program and congress’ continued proposals to steal Social Security from seniors, do you see Americans finally having our own Arab Spring?
A. I hope it never comes to that because revolutions involve such chaos: women get raped, children have to witness horror, schools shut down, hospitals get looted — revolutions are hell, second only to hell of war itself. That’s the extreme side of it, of course. Can they be worth the outcome? Yes, definitely. I remain somewhat skeptical of the six of one, half a dozen of the other dictator-switch that happens so often in the Arab world. What I would like to see blossom in the hearts and minds of Americans are the buds of awareness of our own collective power. The people of Tunisia took to the streets because they do not have have the right to vote for representatives in a democratic republic also known as a constitutional republic (our system) or anything remotely close to our referendums and other forms of direct democracy.
We have the power here in the U.S. And more and more people are waking up to the responsibility that having power requires us to take. Social Security is a good example. President Obama and party-line dems thought they could pass chained CPI and the American people wouldn’t bat an eye last year. Wrong. We called, we wrote, we signed the petitions. And we did it – we succeeded at getting chained CPI off the table. This past summer we collectively prevented an attack on Syria the same way. It was amazing! Again it started out as a “support the President; you love Obama, right? Cuz you totally just re-elected him so do what he says, okay, you guys?” and we were all like, no. I wrote my Rep and my two Senators, and called all three and tweeted at them and told them, “hey, I voted for you before and I was happy to do it. You support an attack on a country that is not a threat to us? I’ll be writing in Nathan Hale in the next election, thanks.”
If more people continue to wake up and take action, and realize that we the people are in the superior position in the power/control/authority dynamic with our elected representatives, we won’t ever need an actual in-the-streets revolution. But good point on Social Security – they don’t quit, do they? If it’s not chained CPI, it’s Abby Huntsman saying we have to raise the age or reduce benefits. No, we can just remove the income cap, Abby, and tax all income, not just the first $117,000 per year, at the same rate. So all of us normal people with a moral compass that tells us to make sure the elderly aren’t starving in their old age have to keep reacting to the anti-Social Security crowd’s ploys with sustained pressure, the same way corporate lobbyists do, by informing Congress, “Don’t do what we want, we’ll find someone who will — next election.”
“There are two ways to get and maintain justice: protest the injustice and demand that a specific solution be implemented by those in the position of authority to make it happen OR occupy a position of authority and implement it yourself.” Our government isn’t listening to us so I take your quote to mean that more people need to run as Independents at the local level to bring about justice. Thoughts?
A. Oh, you read my blog post on “How to Adopt A Zero Tolerance for Weakness in Yourself”! Yes, more people ought to run as independents or even as democrats and republicans with either a progressive or libertarian bent, and not just at the local level, the federal level too. You know I eschew labels and will always say, “I’m not a can of soup so labels are not going to stick to me” because it’s part of this #OpDivideAndConquer, and by that I mean a strategic effort to use language that induces the feeling of Us and Them, Left and Right, and inevitably, right and wrong. And once people are divided, they’re conquered. And once they’re conquered, they stop speaking up because they think it doesn’t matter. So is the government really not listening to us or is it that not enough people are talking? Well, okay, yes – a combination of both. But one thing is for sure: the more we talk, the more they listen. And not the louder we talk.
The more: the frequency of protests (calls, letters, petitions, gatherings on a consistent basis) and the quantity of the people doing the protesting (in every state, organized, if by city, all the better). And we’ve got to stop viewing politicians through the lens of their self-adhered labels (which often turn out to be masks) too. I ask myself, what does this politician believe and believe in? Are they likely to stand up to greed in both its expressions, and protest greed for power and greed for money? Or are they lying liarpaths with the moral compass of styrofoam? Then I make my decision from there, regardless of whether they call themselves democrat, republican, green, independent, libertarian, or what have you. It’s really a common misperception that the party of individual congresspeople matters at all — we remind them, “you work for us. You don’t do what we want, you don’t keep your job. Bottom line.”
Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans are now aware of the National Security Agency and their illegal data collection of our every communication. However, the Fourth Amendment 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act is supposed to provide some protection from government intrusion but it’s outdated and allows for the same thing. What do you think is the purpose for all of this data mining aside from “keeping us safe”?
A. And don’t forget President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333: “Most of NSA’s data collection authorized by order Ronald Reagan issued.” As I have said in the past, I love a good conspiracy theory as much as any Millennial daughter of a liberal Boomer, and if my mom were alive today, she would love that Snowden brought Ellsberg out of “whistleblower retirement,” if you will. And Ellsberg makes an excellent point that via PRISM, the system is in place for anyone to be blackmailed for anything by the NSA: with the literally limitless capacity to collect the details of our entire lives via our internet trails, the government could use the kind of porn we watch, the affairs we’re having, or the political candidates or political movements we might have preferred to keep supporting anonymously, or anything — any random seemingly innocuous site we visited without a second thought — against us. And how the Stasi worked most pervasively was to use the intel it gathered on/against certain individuals to get those easier targets to then provide the juicy and/or gory details of the deep dark secrets of the un-spy-on-able harder targets. So let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s a huge conspiracy. Maybe it is.
But I really don’t think it’s as sinister as gathering secrets to set up a Stasi network. I’m going to say it’s pure greed. If I were a betting woman, I would bet the house on greed for money, plain and simple. Piles and piles of money — our tax dollars — are sitting there and these war mongers want to rake in the money pile. “Oh, we need even more data to protect us from the Terr’ists, so hire more analysts, build more data centers, and don’t forget to outsource wherever possible at a 300% markup compared to in-house spies.” The desire to profit from everything as much as possible – unbridled greed – will be the cause of the fall of our empire before any other catalyst.
But … on the off chance there is something sinister going on, let me stress here that it’s imperative that we demand that our elected
representatives repeal the entire USA PATRIOT Act, and not just section 215. After all, Snowden said in his Greenwald interview that the NSA was hell bent on “making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.” Ellsberg describes this as “a global expansion of the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security in the Stalinist ‘German Democratic Republic,’ whose goal was ‘to know everything.’”
And just in case, have everyone sign this one too: It’s a letter to your 2 Senators and 1 Rep asking them to support the Email Privacy Act, which would require law enforcement to get a warrant to view any email, the same as the law currently requires now for them to read any of our regular USPS mail.
On your website you write about patriotism, dying for your country, and giving thanks to those who have. It’s a word proudly claimed by conservatives who don’t really know the true meaning. What is patriotism?
A. Patriotism is true unconditional love for everyone in your country. The true patriot is happy to die for any American — not just the ones who share the same political beliefs. I try to wrap my mind and my heart around being willing to die for anyone in our country at any time. Every time I get trolled on twitter, I think, “hey, this person is expressing their right to freedom of speech, the same as I am” and I block them and move on. But the soldier, the vet, the true patriot – they’re happy to die so the troll can tweet word-vomit, you can blog about raising the wage, I can tweet @whitehouse every single night to close Gitmo, and the tea partiers can tell the President that Obamacare is communism. To the true patriot, all that matters is that someone always be there, ready and willing to give their life on demand as payment on an insurance policy against tyranny, as the premium that will insure that no government does to us again what the government we revolted against did to us.
The Founders delineated those tyrannical injustices with the Bill of Rights to insure that we’d be protected from specific violations. Freedom of speech is just one of many rights, but here’s an example using it. People will quote Voltaire and say, “I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the teeth your right to say it.” The true patriot lives this idealism as a lifestyle, always ready to die – to defend to *the death* – our right to protest injustice and object to abuse of power by authority, our right to practice any religion we choose, our right to be free from religion, our right to bear arms, our right to free speech and a free press, the right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent and make the accuser prove whether or not we’ve actually done something wrong in a court of law, the right to gather in protest or to gather to organize and discuss the government’s unjust actions out in the open, and the list goes on and on. That’s love – being willing to die for freedom, not because any specific person has earned it with behavior that deserves it, but simply because freedom itself is worth dying for.
Last week you tweeted, “Not voting at the polls is the same as voting with our silence for everything to stay the same.” Despite the high level of voter apathy and low approval of congress, voting matters and it’s a right we still have. It seems congress would prefer that we not vote so they can go back to pretty much electing themselves like they did before the 17th amendment. What do you think?
A. Well, members of congress definitely count on apathy to get re-elected, that’s for sure. Apathy, I believe, comes from a shortage of time. People literally don’t have the time to care: at the end of the day, after dealing with their survival needs (working, taking care of offspring, etc.), they’re literally and figuratively spent. The 24 hours in their Time Account is tapped out and they have to go to sleep, without one minute left to read an article or sign a petition. And you make a great point — prior to the 17th Amendment, it was state legislatures that elected each state’s U.S. Senators.
In my state, the only reason pro-consumer, anti-Citizens United, Al Franken was able to win the senate race was because he was running in 2008, the same year people turned out in droves to elect Barack Obama and many — but not all — voted for Franken because they voted Democrat all the way down the ticket (it was such a close call here in Minnesota that there had to be a recount of all the ballots and it took months). There’s a very real possibility that Senator Franken will not be re-elected this fall because the people simply don’t turn out to vote in high enough numbers for Senate and House elections for the outcomes to represent the actual desires of the populace, so in a way, it’s as if the 17th amendment is repealed by default.
The same party-line establishment dems and republicans are predominantly the ones who take the time to go and vote in those elections, so yeah, it might as well be the state legislatures choosing the Senate, the same as it was pre-Amendment 17. I call this winning by a default plurality– probably every politician holding office in our country won because the majority of people didn’t vote at all.
I’m always so sad when I meet people who do not realize how lucky they are to live in a country where we get to vote. I’ll never forget going with my mom to vote when I was 7, in the Bush/Dukakis election in 1988: she lifted me up in the tiny booth to show me the ballot and explained that people had died for us to be free of a monarchy, to be able to elect our leaders, and that those people, during the Revolutionary War, didn’t fight so that they would get the right to vote, because they wouldn’t get to, and they knew it. They knew they were going to die on a bloody battlefield. No, they fought so that we would get the right to vote. And they were happy to die, to put another generation’s happiness above their own.
I am so thankful for the right to have my voice and opinion literally counted – I know I’m honoring all vets, living or dead, when I cast my ballot. It’s not an option or an obligation to me, it’s a true privilege. I love voting – I try to take the day off work when I can and enjoy the whole day of being alive and not living under a monarchy or a fascist regime.
You’ve been on hiatus for almost a year now from blogging and posting Youtube videos mainly using Twitter to communicate your message for social and economic justice and to incite progressive action. When can we expect you back?
A. Spring time is always a productive time of year for me — in some ways, I do hibernate during winter which here in Minnesota lasts about 5 months; some years, it’s even longer. On the calendar for this spring is more Nathan Hale Park Interviews (the snow has to melt off the bench though or my butt gets wet during the interview), and specifically I’d like to interview someone from my co-op, the Mississippi Market, about how they run a business paying everyone a liveable wage and how that same business model could be applied to large companies. I’m a huge proponent of the #FifteenNow movement for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage and it would be a dream interview to have Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant on the bench to discuss how she mobilized an entire city to vote for her and support her $15/hr minimum wage agenda.
I’d also love to interview Colonel Morris Davis and Coleen Rowley about being whistleblowers: his first hand experience with the Gitmo military commissions and her front end experience with terrorist act prevention. And I’d really like the opportunity to have a conversation with CIA Director John Brennan if he had a chance to make it out to St Paul some time. I’d ask him a few questions about the differences between the PATRIOT Act and how a Patriot would actually act. I’d also like to pitch to him my idea for an overt op (like a covert op, only different) for closing Gitmo: what it would be is a collaborative effort to meet with every single member of Congress, 535 people, in 90 days, to get them to pass the legislation required to transfer all the men in Gitmo to a prison on U.S. soil and finally close the detention facility in Cuba for good. I would be the warm sell, he would be the deal closer. Gitmo isn’t going to get closed until someone on the inside comes forward and says, hey, what we did by opening this prison was not good (or “was the best decision we could make under the circumstances at the time”), but we can stop doing it now. I’m all about idealism so my gift is inspiring people to consider doing the right thing.
To actually get Congress to vote to close Gitmo will require upping the ante: someone who can apply sustained pressure and make good use of the power of persuasion. That person needs to be big and scary and federal, in order to radiate the sense of safety and confidence necessary to convey that “bad guys” getting transferred to a prison in the U.S. will not be the end of the world. As I always say, it really could be worse – instead of (alleged) terrorists, they could be child pornographers and child rapists; and we give those people a trial in a court of law, don’t we? To put it into perspective, those kinds of pedophiles aren’t under a religious delusion that violence is justified; they’re fully aware that they are hurting minors and/or profiting from it. Bin Laden’s stated goal was to ruin our country financially — he wasn’t even trying to morally bankrupt us, but here were are 12 years later holding people without charging them with, or trying them for, a crime, 76 of whom could be released. Indefinite detention is torture! There must be someone inside the intelligence community who is brave enough and patriotic enough to volunteer to help Congress realize it’s not too late — that there’s still time to restore our nation’s moral authority, what President Obama called our greatest currency in the world.
Thank you so much for interviewing me, Joslyn! I love your passion and drive — it’s so inspiring. It’s up to our generation to shift the paradigm and it’s people like us who are making it happen right now.