The only drama in last night’s State of the Union address, was what happened minutes before it started: anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan — the mother of US soldier slain in Iraq — was summarily arrested, manhandled and jailed for the crime against the state of… wearing a t-shirt emblazoned “2245 Dead. How many more?”
In a diary on Daily Kos, Sheehan gives a first hand account of her arrest, and the circumstances that led up to it. She had no plans to go to the SOTU last night, but reluctantly attended after being given a ticket by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey at a press conference earlier in the day.
I was having second thoughts about going to the SOTU at the Capitol. I didn’t feel comfortable going. I knew George Bush would say things that would hurt me and anger me and I knew that I couldn’t disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn’t want to be disruptive out of respect for her. I, in fact, had given the ticket to John Bruhns who is in Iraq Veterans Against the War. However, Lynn’s office had already called the media and everyone knew I was going to be there so I sucked it up and went.
I got the ticket back from John, and I met one of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s staffers in the Longworth Congressional Office building and we went to the Capitol via the undergroud tunnel. I went through security once, then had to use the rest room and went through security again.
My ticket was in the 5th gallery, front row, fourth seat in. The person who in a few minutes was to arrest me, helped me to my seat.
I had just sat down and I was warm from climbing 3 flights of stairs back up from the bathroom so I unzipped my jacket. I turned to the right to take my left arm out, when the same officer saw my shirt and yelled; “Protester.” He then ran over to me, hauled me out of my seat and roughly (with my hands behind my back) shoved me up the stairs. I said something like “I’m going, do you have to be so rough?”
The officer ran with me to the elevators yelling at everyone to move out of the way. When we got to the elevators, he cuffed me and took me outside to await a squad car. […] I was never told that I couldn’t wear that shirt into the Congress. I was never asked to take it off or zip my jacket back up. If I had been asked to do any of those things…I would have, and written about the suppression of my freedom of speech later. I was immediately, and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for “unlawful conduct.”
After I had my personal items inventoried and my fingers printed, a nice Sgt. came in and looked at my shirt and said, “2245, huh? I just got back from there.”
I told him that my son died there. That’s when the enormity of my loss hit me. I have lost my son. I have lost my First Amendment rights. I have lost the country that I love. Where did America go? I started crying in pain.
What did Casey die for? What did the 2244 other brave young Americans die for? What are tens of thousands of them over there in harm’s way for still? For this? I can’t even wear a shirt that has the number of troops on it that George Bush and his arrogant and ignorant policies are responsible for killing.
When I titled this post “Exit Strategy” I wasn’t referring to the war in Iraq to which Sheehan’s son Casey gave his life, and to which Sheehan herself must now apparently give up her freedom in order to peacefully protest. I was referring to the war on dissent that is now being fought in this country on multiple fronts, both by the jackbooted ground troops of President Bush’s lying, spying proto-police state, and by his party’s right-wing, extremist base, whose escalating eliminationist rhetoric promises to physically intimidate the political opposition into submission.
The “Exit Strategy” I am referring to is the strategy that all those who openly criticize this government must now consider should our nation continue its slide towards fascism. One should at least start to imagine the possibility that there could someday be very real consequences, legal or otherwise, for those or us who continue to speak out; it would not be the first time in our nation’s history that dissidents faced a choice between martyrdom or expatriation, or worse… shutting up.
Right now, despite our vaunted Bill of Rights, we can be spied on without warrant, arrested without cause, and imprisoned indefinitely without trial. We have a president who claims extra-constitutional wartime powers in the name of a “war on terror” that has no conceivable end, and a Congress that has all but ceded its role as a co-equal branch of government. And we have a political climate in which prominent media figures can publicly call for the assassination of Supreme Court Justices, without fear of legal consequences or public rebuke… as long as they target the right justices… or more specifically, those perceived to be on the left.
This is the current state of affairs, but what should happen should our economy implode under its own arrogance, or the rule of law collapse in an avalanche of fear after another major terrorist attack? Will our government protect dissenters from the pent up anger of political vigilantes? Will our voices be silenced, or punished as seditious under some wartime power inferred by a unitary executive? Will we be blacklisted? Imprisoned? Interred?
Dismiss this as a paranoid fantasy, but it’s happened before, and there’s certainly nothing more noble or high-minded about this president than there was about Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, or Roosevelt. When even in these relatively peaceful times, the mother of a fallen soldier can be arrested and manhandled in the capitol building itself, for doing nothing more than wearing a t-shirt — with little or no outrage expressed by the MSM — what chance would dissidents have during a true national crisis?
Just makes me wonder if it’s time to start considering an exit strategy.