Government and Citizenship
By Charles Sullivan
04/03/07 “ICH” — — I have been thinking a great deal of late about government and its relationship to the citizenry. It should be obvious that any government that claims to be of the people and for the people must also serve the people. Yet it is clear that the current government does not serve the people—it exploits them. When sixty-four percent of the citizenry demand an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the government responds not by withdrawing its troops, but by escalating the war, that government cannot be a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. What is it then?
It is a government of the wealthy; a corporate, fascist government of the highest order. It is a government that spurns ordinary people and uses its power against them. It is the opposite of the kind of representative government it purports to be. It extorts tax dollars from its citizens and sends them to do the bidding of the very wealthy under the pretense of patriotism and national defense. It is, in fact, using citizens against citizens and plundering the national treasure with the tools of empire, class warfare, and imperialism.
Every military weapon that is manufactured and put in use diminishes us as a nation. Militarism enriches the defense contractors and the plutocracy by robbing the citizens. It deprives us of an urgently needed national health care system, better schools, decent jobs that provide living wages; and it exacts social and environmental costs that are incalculable, all of which are important to ordinary Americans.
We do not have a government based upon the rule of law or equality, as evidenced by its own history—even its recent history, as we saw in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina; or in the dilapidated military hospitals across the land where limbless soldiers cannot get the health care they so desperately need, and lie waiting and wasting in filth and ruin. These are the troops the government purports to care so much about. Broken men and women from combat zones are the worn out tools of empire builders. Like unwanted toys, they are used up and no longer played with by our rulers; an embarrassment, something to be warehoused safely from public view.
The president and his minions behave as if they are above the law. Laws apply to his subjects, but not to the King who thinks he is the supreme ruler.
They want us to believe that we support our troops by placing magnetic ribbons on our vehicles and by prominently displaying American flags. But Walter Reed and other military hospitals across the land reveal what we really think about our military veterans in ways that cannot be offset by patriotic trinkets and jingoism. The government honors them in patriotic language even as they abandon them in deed.
There is a constant tension that exists between the government and the governed. The people are disorganized and the government is doing everything in its power to keep them that way. Nearly all of the public good that was ever accomplished in this country came as the result of public outcry for justice, a cry that brought people together in mass to organize against gross injustice. That is how chattel slavery was finally abolished. It is how civil rights were won. Organized mass civil disobedience and protest brought the Viet Nam war to an end.
When enough good people unite in common cause, government is forced to hear their voice and meet their demands. I should note here that it is only unjust governments that have anything to fear from its citizenry. Democratic governments do not treat its own citizens like terrorists by trying to quell dissent or spying on them. Nor do they imprison those who disagree with them and uphold a higher code of ethics and conduct than them.
The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence—all of them important and eloquent documents—did not bring about the most important achievements in American history. Ordinary citizens did all of that by organizing and demanding justice. Freedom isn’t won in the courts or secured in documents; it is won in the streets through the deeds of an aroused and just citizenry. Just laws can be written but it is ordinary people who must bring them to life and give them meaning. Integrity must live in the hearts of the citizenry. Justice is not a noun—it is a verb that must be driven by principled action.
An alert, thoughtful, rational, conscientious citizenry; an aroused citizenry, is the worst nightmare of tyranny. That is why the government is spying on its citizens. That is why posse comitatus and habeas corpus were revoked by the Bush regime and enabled by a timorous congress. It has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The government is keeping an eye on us, looking for signs of trouble. They must keep us from coming together, from organizing against the established order just as radical unions are kept out of the work place.
Most of the citizens of the United States, while quite naïve, are, I believe, good and decent people who play by the rules. The majority of them, whose voices are rarely heard above the noise of the corporate media, operate with a sense of justice and fair play. Most of them would not knowingly cheat a neighbor and only a small percentage, actually a fraction of one percent of them, would murder a neighbor. It is their naiveté, their ignorance and trust in authority that gets them into trouble.
Conversely, the government has a murderous history, a long record of criminality, and a track record of lying and deception that any sociopath would envy—especially in its present incarnation under George Bush and Dick Cheney. It has a lot to answer for. When violence is the first resort of a government, the people have no business referring to it as a democratic republic. They must offer resistance to it. They must bring it into line with the values and code of ethics of the citizenry.
Few would argue, no matter what political stripe they wear, that the current government bears no more resemblance to the citizenry than it does to the socio-economic demographics of the population as a whole. Thus the vast majority of us have government without representation. It is government that does not serve the people, but treats them as its servants.
If we are to see improvement, we must stop acting as if we are living on the plantation and take personal responsibility for what the government is doing in our name. This will require organized resistance beginning at the community level and spreading outward. It all begins with the personal choices we make. Ultimately, it will require global solidarity to meet a threat that is also global in extent.
Charles Sullivan is an architectural millwright, photographer, activist, and free-lance writer residing deep in the hinterlands of West Virginia. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.