Glenn Greenwald on Political Protest

GlennFrom Glenn Greenwald’s piece last week in The Intercept. The entire article, obviously, is worth reading, but this section has important implications for all of us seeking to creatively and courageously name, resist and transform the System:

The more one delves into what is being done here — the extreme abuse of the criminal law to stifle nonviolent political protest or even just pure political speech, undertaken with tragically little attention — the more appalling it becomes. There are numerous cases of animal rights activists, several of whom spoke to The Intercept, who weren’t even accused of harming people or property, but who were nonetheless sent to federal prison for years.

One obvious and significant reason for the U.S. government’s fixation is that the industries most threatened by this activism are uncontrollably powerful in Washington, virtually owning the Congress without opposition, stacking the relevant agencies with their revolving-door cronies. Another is that this movement is driven by hard-core believers impressively willing to sacrifice their own liberty in defense of their political values — namely, trying to stop the mass torture and gratuitous slaughter of animals — and that frightens both industry and its government servants; that animal rights as a cause is gaining traction worldwide makes the threat even more alarming.

Yet another reason is that the specific forms of activism this movement has cultivated are shrewd and compelling: As is true for so many types of violence, the savagery, torture and sadism that makes these industries so profitable will be collectively tolerated only if we are not forced to confront their reality…

…American elites are typically willing to tolerate political protest as long as it remains constrained, controlled, and fundamentally respectful of the rules imposed by institutions of authority — i.e., as long as it remains neutered and impotent. When protest movements adhere to those constraints, they are not only often ineffective, but more so, they can unwittingly serve as a false testament to the freedom of the political process and the generosity of its rulers (they let us speak out: see, we’re free!). That kind of marginal, modest “protest” often ends up strengthening the process it believes it is subverting.

When, by contrast, a movement transgresses those limitations and starts to become effective in impeding the injustices it targets — particularly when preserving those injustices is valuable to the most powerful — that’s when it has to be stopped at all costs, including criminalizing it with the harshest possible legal weapons.

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