A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
The Boston Tea Party ... was radical guerrilla subversive theater. And all along, protest has been based on a First Amendment right to have the right to assemble as big as the sky, the right to yell and scream against anyone who is trying to oppress us.
-- Naomi Wolf, Author of Give Me Liberty: A Handbook For American Revolutionaries
* * *
Wolf is back with a strong follow-up to the compelling The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot. In Give Me Liberty: A Handbook For American Revolutionaries, Wolf offers an overview of core principles for a Constitutional democracy. Moreover, she provides a practical guide to grassroots empowerment of the right to protest and exercise our grievances against unjust infringements upon our rights as Americans.
We talked with Naomi Wolf while she was in Chicago on her book tour for Give Me Liberty: A Handbook For American Revolutionaries.
* * *
BuzzFlash: We are talking with Naomi Wolf, who we interviewed last time about a book that was one of our best sellers on BuzzFlash, The End of America. And The End of America obviously is kind of a disheartening title, and bleak. But you’ve come back with something that is kind of a handbook for optimism: Give Me Liberty, A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.
I want to first ask you, Naomi, about revolutionaries. That’s a word that kind of has two meanings in America. We admire at least in name the American Revolution. But if you call someone a revolutionary, that’s considered a pejorative in the mainstream political world and mainstream media. They’re radical. They’re a revolutionary. Can you explain that dichotomy?
Naomi Wolf: I would think that we’ve forgotten, or the propaganda of us as Americans view arose to get us away from an understanding of the revolutionary nature of what we’re supposed to inherit and how we’re supposed to act. And there’s a reason for that propaganda. It’s to disempower us, and to allow the kind of leading by the elites that we’re seeing right now, honestly to be encouraged to lose touch with how truly revolutionary the American project is intended to be, how radically each of us is supposed to be called to action and leadership. And if we can be encouraged to throw up our hands, then it’s much easier for oligarchs to encumber us and manipulate us. And what do we do? What’s the answer?
Well, I went back to our own history and to set out a real, practical, step by step battle plan for how Americans can fight back against this violent repression of our democracy. It was inspiring to me when I went back to the original revolutionary generation. It was the ordinary people that made up the revolutionary movement. Ordinary people were captured by the vision of liberty.
These ordinary Americans were truly radicals.
BuzzFlash: You talk about a fake democracy, a fake patriotism. On July 4th, we celebrate the Founding Fathers and the revolution, which was a very, very dramatic event -– I believe the first of its kind, where the descendants of primarily British heritage broke away from their monarchy. There was a war where many people died, and they wrote a Constitution that overthrew the concept of European monarchies and created a government of the rule of law and rule by the governed. The precedent was set for the citizens of the nation to decide who would lead the government -– this was a dramatic innovation in the course of history, and truly a radical revolution. And yet now if someone challenges the status quo, they’re considered extremists.
Naomi Wolf: This is exactly why I wrote the book. These people who founded America were willing to take on a powerful, tyrannical force. We’re disempowered now if we don’t have access to the tools and the psychology that the founding leaders and radicals intended us to have. And what you said is exactly right. This idea is of a government of law, led by ordinary people with the consent of the governed -– with all the flaws and shortcomings that the kind of vision that 18th Century guys had, the historical blindness on some things like women and slavery that was part of their generation. But, as you said, the kernel of the idea of democracy was perfect, perfect in allowing for subsequent generations to expand the idea of liberty and human rights. And we’ve forgotten how radical it was. It was the most extreme political idea that the human species had ever come up with. It’s still the best idea the human species has ever come up with. And, we are being completely blind-sided by the propaganda directed at making us forget.
I found many examples of patriotism. One of the most important is protest. Our nation was born in protest. But now, we just saw people brutally arrested for protesting at the Republican National Convention, in violation of one of the most basic precepts of democracy. Protest is a profoundly American ideal. The colonial revolutionaries would protest against the tax collectors and the emissaries of King George. They were incredibly vocal and obstreperous and gutsy.
The Boston Tea Party, for example, was radical guerrilla subversive theater. And all along, protest has been based on a First Amendment right to have the right to assemble as big as the sky, the right to yell and scream against anyone who is trying to oppress us.
I have a whole chapter on protest in the book. I looked at how you can fight back at the effort to suppress democracy. I saw again and again, from history, that mass protest has always been effective. This is the kind of protest that brought down the Berlin Wall, for example.
Right now in America, there is an inhibition among many people about public protest. Many young people thing it is pointless. Even when people do protest, many of the powers that be label them as saboteurs or anarchists. This has been a systematic close-down of protests since the Civil Rights/Vietnam War era. One of the ways that the right to protest has been shut down is through setting up onerous permit processes. Right now, in the United States, it is often harder to conduct a mass protest than it is in many nations overseas.
Many protests are de facto made illegal in the United States, so that if you step into the street without a permit to protest you can get arrested. So the mass protests that bring about change have been increasingly shut down.
Not only that, but the police are starting to using rubber bullets and tasers against people who are exercising their First Amendment Rights. The founders of our nation would be horrified.
BuzzFlash: I would say to illustrate the power of demonstrations, I was very heartened that approximately 1500 women assembled a couple of weeks ago in Anchorage to reject Palin. It was started by a couple of Anchorage women having a cup of coffee and deciding that they needed to show the rest of America that many Alaskan women object to the policies of Governor Palin. It showed that a couple of ordinary Americans can have a national impact through a spontaneous protest.
Naomi Wolf: But we need to take it a step further. There is a war being conducted against American citizens. You and I talked about this a year ago in terms of my last book. We need to get ahead of the curve with outlets like BuzzFlash. But this war has escalated dramatically. Protesters and activists are being harassed and arrested and placed under surveillance. Activists are talking about their e-mail and mail being disrupted.
It’s a logical next step, once the technology has been put into place for spying on terrorists, that it will be used on activists.
At a time when the U.S. government will take over a giant chunk of the U.S. economy, you have to understand that it is a very serious and dangerous time.
And while protests like the kind in Alaska are heartening, it is important to take to the streets. Civil disobedience like the kind taken by Dr. Martin Luther King is necessary now because people are being marginalized. It is what will give people leverage.
That is why at the end of my book, there is a section on protests. Martin Luther King went to jail for disregarding a restrictive permit system. I am urging people to use all the powers that they have.
BuzzFlash: We should point out that this is a handbook. You do articulate core principles of democracy, but the largest part of the book is on how to become a “Minuteman” or “Minutewoman” in 2008. It is important to restate that protests from a dedicated group of people for a righteous cause can have an impact. We only need to look back, as you mentioned, to the Civil Rights movement to see how dramatically people who put themselves on the line in protest changed the nation.
Naomi Wolf: You’re exactly right. You’re looking at the building blocks of oppression under this administration, and the thing about tyrants is that they don’t want to relinquish power. If people are intimidated by the police suppression, silence will lead to more and more encroachment and harassment.
I am really excited by efforts to ramp up the democracy memory by the efforts I am seeing on my book tour to form spontaneous groups to defend liberty, and there are 55 action steps at the back of the book to assist their efforts. At this point, it is going to take some radical actions to launch a movement to push back. As you and I have said before, there is a rampant disregard of the rule of law by those in authority. There are more and more dangerous abuses of power.
It is going to be a very dark future if we don’t rise up. This is about what we have to cherish as Americans.
BuzzFlash: A lot of people, given the seizure of the executive branch by Bush and Cheney in 2000, have become passive, particularly given the inability of the anti-Iraq rallies to end the war. Many people now think that if Obama wins, our problems will be solved.
But won’t we really need more civic action if Obama is elected, because he won’t be able to accomplish progressive goals unless vocal activists are being heard loud and clear. Social change comes from the people up, not from Washington, D.C., down.
Naomi Wolf: Absolutely. If there is one insight I got from what Americans are supposed to be doing, it’s that we are supposed to change our psychology. We should not think that if “my” candidate wins, he or she will fix it all, a top down solution. Rather, each of us must internalize the idea that it is our responsibility to take ownership of defending the Constitution and liberty, that we are in charge as a people.
So even if Obama gets in, we’re not out of the woods, because, first of all, these laws are not going to be rolled back unless there is a drastic movement to roll them back. The founders knew that you can get the most decent in power, but the checks and balances must still be in place because the temptation for abuse is too great.
Democracy is hard.
BuzzFlash: Before the American Revolution, there were the Committees of Correspondence in order to communicate the reasons and need for taking action. The American Revolutionaries had to have the courage to take on the mightiest army and naval fleet in the world at the time. Are we talking here about modern day Americans having the courage of their convictions and not feeling beaten down by the political system?
Naomi Wolf: We are talking about exactly that. I am struck by my travels across the country at how powerless and vulnerable many people feel. But at a time like this, we desperately need people to feel courageous and empowered by concrete actions that they can take. The first step is a psychological hurdle.
Our country is based on a psychology of liberty and freedom that is supposed to be transformative. That’s why it was important for me in this book to give concrete action steps to empower people to stand up for democracy.
Everyone should learn how to become the equivalent of BuzzFlash. Everyone should be empowered to expose government abuses. Everyone should be able to know how to start a political movement. Everyone should know how to organize a protest movement.
Each of us is charged with protecting the well being of our revolutionary heritage.
BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
* * *
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW