I am writing out of a sense of extreme anguish and distress. A very dear friend of my sons - a 16 year old boy - a boy whose family we have known for years and years - went to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis this past week. In the company of other teens and adults, he, believing himself to be an American who enjoys rights and privileges we are constantly reminded that no one else in the world possesses, exercised his right to protest. He was not armed. He was in no way threatening. But he and the group of about 300 people he was with - who were leaving the scene of the protests, who were doing what the police had asked - were pelted with tear gas, rounded up and detained. They were walking across a bridge and the police blocked them off on both sides and then pelted them with shock grenades which temporarily blinded them. His parents were not notified and his cell phone - like all the damning cameras and the like - were seized by the police. He was kept overnight in a juvenile detention center and has a court date.
Had this been Georgia, China or Havana, American journalists and politicians would have been falling over themselves to condemn and shake their heads, certain of their moral superiority in the world. We're Americans, right? The good guys, right? Those others - they're the ones who have no rights in their own countries, who long to be Americans where we have so many freedoms.
But.... isn't right of assembly one of those basic freedoms? I teach students about the Constitution all the time - and this week I got to explain to my son, distraught over the treatment his friend received, that there is a world of difference between what freedoms are described in text books and routinely quoted by politicians - and the reality of what people experience every day in this country.
My sons' friend has been battered and mistreated. He witnessed innocent people being batoned and violently thrown onto the pavement by police. He saw people hit by tear gas canisters who were injured and bleeding. He saw people arrested for peacefully protesting. He witnessed the thin veil of hypocrisy waved in his face.
Do you believe this? Are you someone who knows all of this very well? Do you, like me, struggle to find a way to inspire and engage students about participating in real life political struggle whilst being painfully aware of the increasingly dangerous situation in this country? Do you spend time teaching teens agers about the Constitution - and then explaining how it has been seriously impacted by the Patriot Act, amongst other vicious pieces of legislation in this country? Are you and your students really aware of just what rights we proud Americans have thrown away in recent years? Are you, like me, painfully aware that neither of the two main presidential candidates have any intention of doing away with the Patriot Act? In addition to the abuses heaped by police on protesters outside of the RNC, inside, Ron Paul delegates - who were not protesters but who were there in their official democratically sanctioned role as delegates - were harassed and followed by secret service agents. Ron Paul, not surprisingly, was the presidential hopeful who was against the Patriot Act.
And so I say to my students and to my son, welcome to Real Life Politics in America.
If you'd like to see some footage of this police action and the incredibly frightening treatment meted out to peaceful protesters, click on this link to youtube videos. You can also watch the arrest of journalist and DemocracyNow presenter Amy Goodman.