So, let’s revisit that American foundation document, “The Declaration of Independence.”
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
OK, first of all, nobody in the Occupy movement is calling for overthrow of the government. For one thing, that’s a certain route to violent suppression . But–“Governments…deriv(e) their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” What we who are in the 99% are saying is that the current government of the United States, whether “Republican” or “Democrat,” is not pursuing policies that are conducive to our “Life,Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness.”There has, once again, been “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” That would seem to indicate that it is, once again, our “right and duty” to “throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for (our) future security.”
Next in the Declaration come the “Facts submitted to a candid world,” a detailing of the “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.” Let’s read through them and see to what extent they still, or once again, apply.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
OK….I could spend the whole hour talking about that item alone. The only difference is that, instead of a single, mad monarch sitting on the throne England, our modern “he” is our Congress, which is held in thrall to special interests, and does their bidding rather than doing what is “wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Let’s see–universal single-payer health care, serious regulation of our banking and financial sector, meaningful environmental legislation, the legalization of at least medical marijuana–these and many more causes enjoy widespread public support and would bring widespread public benefit, but are not “politically possible” because they would reduce or eliminate the profits of certain corporate “persons” who are, apparently, more equal than us mere flesh and blood persons.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
The most outstanding current example of this is how the federal government is interfering with state medical marijuana programs, from the ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft in which the Supreme Court held that marijuana grown in somebody’s back yard for their personal consumption was somehow covered by the interstate commerce clause and thus subject to federal law, to the current DOJ campaign against any kind of business providing marijuana to people with medical needs. Other examples: the not-so-strict federal “do not call” law superseded Wisconsin’s stricter statute, and a wide array of local environmental regulations.
”It is the 1970s in reverse. Then, the feds stepped in with more stringent standards than the states to ensure that the environment was protected,” said Steve Hinchman, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Maine. ”Now, as states get ahead of the federal government, they’re stepping in to protect industry at the expense of people who are forced to breathe this air.”
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
Nothing domestic here–but look at the role the U.S. has played in supporting dictators and repressing popular movements around the world–think Palestine, think Pakistan, Indonesia, fill in the blank. Sure, we helped topple Qadhafi, but he was not only repressing dissent in Libya, he was about to ask to be paid for his oil in gold, rather than U.S. dollars. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Syrian government can shoot or torture anyone it wants, apparently, as long as they don’t challenge U.S. hegemony. The Occupy Declaration echoes this:
- They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
- They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
OK, back to the Declaration of Independence:
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
Two hundred years ago, the speediest land transportation was a fast horse. Today, the ruling class has made legislative bodies “uncomfortable and distant” by raising the cost of campaigning so high that the only way to run for office with any hope of success is to be independently wealthy, or to be dependent on contributions from the ruling class–who will not support anyone who does not support them. As a result, our state and national governments are primarily concerned with maintaining the privileged position of those who have bought them, leaving the rest of us exposed to various economic and social “convulsions within,” all the while scaring everyone they can with the danger of “invasion from without.” Again, the Occupy Declaration touches on this point:
- They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
The D of I, again:
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
This is one of the few issues where I have some sympathy for the English position. One of the complaints of the Europeans who settled what is now the USA was that the English wanted to keep them east of the Appalachians, and reserve the territory west of the mountains for the original inhabitants. Because of that, and because the English were concerned about their colonies being subverted by too many non-English immigrants, Crown policy attempted to limit the number of Europeans who invaded Turtle Island. Those doing the invading, on the other hand, sought safety in numbers. To me, it is one of the great ironies of US immigration policy that a bunch of people of European descent are trying to stop native people from Mexico and Central America from entering this country–a trade and migration route that predates European arrival by thousands of years. And, of course, there’s the further irony that it is US foreign trade policy that has destroyed the economies of these people’s native countries, pushing them to come here because, as Willie Sutton said, “it’s where the money is.” The Occupy Declaration touches on immigration only obliquely, saying
- They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
Back to the Declaration of Independence:
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
These three provisions are all about the proliferation of bureaucracy and the perversion of civil government by money and power, which is at the heart of the complaint of the Occupy movement.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
Hey, no problem! We’ll just buy the legislators and get them to approve the maintenance of a large standing army–and make sure it looks like it’s never a time of peace! And that bought legislature will never question the importance of military appropriations, making our military effectively “independent of and superior to the Civil power.” Quoth the Occupiers:
- They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
- They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
- They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
If I were a right-winger, I’d start raving about U.N. black helicopters at this point, but that, in my opinion, is pure paranoia. The real way in which America has been “subject(ed) to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws,” has been U.S. participation in NAFTA and the WTO, both of which subordinate local environmental and labor safeguards to the profit motives of transnational corporations.
music: REM, “Cuyahoga”
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
The U.S.A. accounts for nearly half of the world’s military spending, but it’s invisible to most of us: our armies are spread across over 700 overseas military bases. The Americans to whom this is not invisible are the families of our soldiers, often from small towns where U.S. government/corporate policy destroyed the local economy and job market, leaving many young people with no choice but the military. And the second point, “protecting (military personnel) from punishment for any Murders which they should commit”? That’s why we have (kind of) withdrawn our armies from Iraq–the government we installed refused to give us carte blanche to go on killing civilians and getting away with it. Gee, the U.S. has been murdering civilians in Iraq with impunity ever since the invasion–What’s the big deal? Oh, well, we can keep on killing civilians–even American citizens–in Pakistan and Yemen, and probably some other place we haven’t heard of yet. All is not lost.
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
As The Living Theater used to exclaim, “I cannot travel without a passport!” Nowadays, the problem is not the “cutting off of Trade,” but the opening up of trade: Chinese imports have destroyed US manufacturing capacity, and US grain exports have destroyed Latin American agriculture. In both cases, the people lose and the corporations win. On the other hand, in the 18th century, individuals could travel without passports, in most places. Nowadays, governments use their passport authority to keep people out of their countries: here in the U.S., Palestinian Fulbright scholars, German publishers, Afghani women’s rights activists, and English environmental activists, among others, have been excluded so that they will not infect the American public with their subversive ideas.
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
Since our government has been taken over by corporate interests, our tax system has, in essence, been changed without our consent: the share of government revenue that comes from corporate taxes has shrunk, so that the burden of supporting corporate government falls predominantly on the shoulders of individuals of modest means, who have to deal with not only income taxes and sales taxes, but property taxes, which keep rising as municipalities receive less money from state and national government coffers.
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
This issue is not on Occupy’s radar, but it is a serious one. According to PBS, 95% of all criminal cases never go to a jury; they are decided by what is called “plea bargain,” but should more properly be termed “blackmail.” What happens is this: prosecutors charge a defendant with everything they can possibly think of, a laundry list that will likely result in decades of prison time, but then inform their victim that if he or she will plead guilty to just one of the charges, or, in the case of drug busts, turn someone else in, they will avoid the expense of a jury trial and, the likelihood of much longer incarceration. Maybe the defendant is innocent, or was acting on principle, but the pressure to agree to a plea bargain is overwhelming, 95% of the time, it seems. Deprived, indeed, of the “benefits of Trial by Jury.”
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
Uuhh…ever heard of “extraordinary rendition”?
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
Several claims in this section of the “facts submitted to a candid world” seem to me to duplicate ones that have already been stated, but the last one, about plundering the seas, and so on, while it was set in a military context at the time, is true today in a corporate framework. Corporate fishing has plundered our seas, and globalization has “burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
The modern parallel of this charge is, again, the way exploitive corporations have destroyed communities. For example, in the Appalachian coal fields, mountaintop removal provides a very few people with good-paying jobs–destroying the country and culture they live in. And, lastly…
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Again, my sympathies lie with the Native Americans, who only subjected us undocumented European immigrants to “undistinguished destruction” after we did the same to them. When all is said and done, all of us who are not of Native American descent are trespassers on this continent. In the 21st century, we’re just accessories after the fact, so to speak, but many of the framers of the Declaration of Independence actually killed Native Americans in order to steal their land. This theft kind of erodes the “sacred honor” of our nation’s founders, but, at this point, hey–it is what it is. Nowadays in America, we don’t get real politically-inspired mayhem–just the threat of it, trumpeted by our national insecurity apparatus. And, finally….
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
We, too, have “Petitioned for Redress in humble terms…have appealed to (the) native justice and magnanimity” of our allegedly representative government, decade after decade, issue after issue. How many on-line petitions did you sign today? At this point I am reminded of the words of a populist activist who was active about halfway between the time of the Declaration of Independence and the present day, William Jennings Bryan:
We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest. We are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned. We have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded. We have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came.
We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them!
For all his fervor and popular appeal, Bryan went down to defeat, at the hands of the same forces we face today. He, a very Jeffersonian Democrat, was overwhelmed by Republican promises of growth and prosperity, and slurs that associated him with “anarchists,” who were to voters of that day what “socialists” are to modern American voters–boogeymen. Some things don’t change much, it seems.
But some things have changed. Unlike the eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, we no longer live in an era when resources and possibilities seem unlimited. Promises of future growth and prosperity now ring hollow, and only the delusionaries in the Tea Party retain their faith in the Corporate American Dream. We have, in the words of the Declaration, endured “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny.” It is, indeed, time to “alter our former system of government.” If we don’t, we will fall even further under the power of sociopathic corporate “persons,” who, like vampires, have no thought of altruism, only self-aggrandizement.
To borrow the words of the chief writer of The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, we must “swear upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
music: Patti Smith, “People Got the Power“