More than 200 people like you are facing 75 years in prison for being at an inauguration protest in Washington, D.C., where a couple of windows were broken. No direct evidence. No real proof of any kind against them. Nothing whatsoever tying any of them to any form of property destruction, but then, let’s be real: It’s not about the broken windows, but about what the broken windows represent. Ohio State wins the National Championship and drunken frat boys turn over cars, destroy traffic lights, take over streets, and everyone within a twenty-block radius isn’t charged with nine felonies, because celebrating a national championship is part of the plan. Those boys are going to grow up to become good consumer work units, while the young feminist will tell you to take your greed, war and overconsumption and go fuck yourself.
I represent three of the J20 defendants and have spent the last seven months trying to get the case dismissed, arguing that you can’t prosecute people for mere presence and that the First Amendment protects the right to criticize your government and to associate with whomever you want — but the prosecution continues, so on November 20 of this year we go to trial. I am back and forth these days between here and D.C. to attend hearings, the power structure having learned a long time ago that repression is much better done with the aura of legality, as Bill Kunstler called it, so that people can look and say that they got the process due, then turn their heads and go on to the next indicated thing. Tanks and soldiers going down the streets, that’s too obvious. Back-alley beatings, well, only if you’re black and brown and no cell phones are around. Constitutional violations on this scale — nameless indictments, Facebook subpoenas, surveillance, monitoring and infiltrations — need to be done “legal” and with the veneer of legitimacy, so that the thinking public, aka “the target audience,” will turn off their brains, take the intended message and run: You can stand in free-speech zones like cattle, you can sign all the petitions that you want, you can go listen to some politician give a speech at whatever civic center, but the moment that you criticize us without our permission, then we will bury you. In other words, as long as protest is essentially meaningless, then you can take on the power structure all day long.
You know, the funny thing about the rise of fascism is that it never meets your expectations. We’ve got the unstable asshole leading the country down the road of destruction, which is admittedly recognizable, but what we don’t have is that Hollywood Barton Fink feeling of resistance in the air. When all you see are people going out to brunch at Snooze in Union Station, you start to question whether your concerns are all that real.
I was in DIA a few weeks ago, when half the flights got canceled because the Western cities were too hot for planes to actually function. (Vegas 122 degrees.) Nothing like a good-quality disruption to bring home the cold hard truth of global warming: Let’s get it on. But then, a very large family in red,white and blue American flag T-shirts was sitting in the Burger King food court stuffing their faces like everything was fine, like flights getting canceled due to cities burning up was normal, like more than one percent of the country being incarcerated is normal, like dropping bombs is normal, like torture is normal, like obesity is normal, like the fucking Holocaust was normal...and then it hit me that fear and apathy aren’t the creepy twins of human doom (Shining reference), but whatever we accept as normal at any given time. If a car crashed into a tree and started burning up with children in it, the people in the park across the street wouldn’t just keep playing Frisbee, they would run over and try to save them. But if somehow those people had come to believe that a car burning up with children trapped inside was normal, then the game of stoned Ultimate would just go on.
It's why some idiot politician can screw his constituents within an inch of their lives as long as he says the right words and wraps himself in the flag. It’s why Bank of America and its army of lawyers could destroy millions of lives across the country during the foreclosure crisis and government prosecutors never even picked up a pen to sign an indictment, but someone allegedly breaks a Bank of America window and everyone within a twenty-block radius is teargassed, arrested, jailed and charged with nine felonies amounting to 75 years in prison. At the very moment Donald Trump was coming into office, the one thing that the power structure could not abide was for there to be a collective review of what passes for normal right now in American life. Which if you think about it, is the purpose of dissent: to puncture a hole, to serve as a counter-friction against the machine, to burn off the haze so that people begin to see things with different eyes.
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Their fear is that if they don’t repress this now, then you will see through the veneer, the aura of legality, and begin to question why Wall Street CEOs who defrauded the country of trillions are rewarded with bonuses, while people who protest out of concern for our democracy are now facing more time than rapists. (See defendant Erin Lemkey’s sharp, brave editorial in the Washington Post .) Their fear is that if they don’t repress this now, then it could embolden people to do more than stand in free-speech zones, listen to politicians at whatever civic center, and then go back home to watch TV. Their fear is that if they don’t repress this now, then the J20 protest might come to represent something to you other than what they want you to believe.
History is strange this way: a man posts a list of demands on a church door and depending on where the people are at, it is either trespassing or a stand against corruption. A group of people refuse to follow the orders of British soldiers, and depending on where the people are at, they are either a riot or the start of a revolution. The funny thing about the rise of fascism is that it depends on you.
Jason Flores-Williams was profiled in this December 7, 2016, Westword story; he is also suing the city over its homeless policies. Westword occasionally publishes opinion pieces on topics of interest to Denver residents. Interested in submitting one? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.