Practical Issues > Politics
A New Generation: Strangers in a Strange Land

A New Generation: Strangers in a Strange Land
By Rocky Neptun

Rocky Neptun, 60, is director of the San Diego renters union and a candidate for the San Diego City Council. His book on San Diego will be published this spring.

In a seriousness that belies their age, they gather. Teens, just out of high school, and twenty-somethings, wearing well-worn, dark clothes with nylon belts and cloth-based shoes. Their potluck buffet is simple - prepared out of love, with no blood, muscle, guts or tendons of anything that once had a face. Bowls of sharp Mexican salsa, tofu spinach dip, potato casserole and baked brownies; all cooked without animal products.

What is it about this segment of a new generation that strikes so much terror into our corporate owned government? Ten thousand peaceniks can assemble in a park. Others demonstrators can stroll down main streets on a quiet Saturday across this country with hardly an eyebrow lifted by federal or local authorities. Tens of thousands of organizations can sue, picket, agitate, demonstrate, write letters, and fret over hundreds of issues; clamoring for room at the trough of power, clawing away at meager shared economic resources and craving dominion. Yet, youthful animal rights and environmental activists send ripples of fear through those in power. What's up with that?

As several dozen young people gathered last Friday at Voz Alta, downtown, to raise money for other young people imprisoned for their activism, their quiet strength as a movement became illuminated. These are no peace freaks driving to demonstrations in SUV's or activists fighting for social causes from their half-million dollar homes.

What a sight for sore eyes! This is no sell-out group, no dropout middle-class guppies, bawling their heads off, while cashing daddy's checks. No wanna-be revolutionaries or anarchists, wearing their black and red bandanas after a hard day at the office. No Susan, the peace mom, checking the CD accounts on the way to the demo. No Skipper, the environmental surfer dude, turf driven. Many working-class kids with service jobs, others are working students; recognizing that each generation must face it own brand of repression.

These kids are modern heroes in the dark times of US imperialism and militarism. They hold the torch, the flame of liberation so rapidly disappearing in our age of Empire. They carry that light about, like modern versions of the sage Diogenes, searching for fairness and decency is each of us. They understand we are quickly losing the ability to understand nature, to use its simple wisdom as a guide to life.

Today, these young people sense the evil. Piggy-backing on the political fearmongers of 9-11, corporate America, through its business associations, think tanks, lobbyists and campaign bribes conspire to rob them of their right to free speech and dissent. As students of history, they also know that most liberals and progressives will ignore them out of fear that at some point, they too, may be challenged to sacrifice too much.

They understand that the Green Scare is here. It is the weapon of choice by CEO's and wealthy speculators to bring yet another generation to its knees by insuring that youthful animal rights activists and environmentalists, who commit civil disobedience for ethical or political reasons, get more time in prison than street thugs and rapists. By bribing Congress to pass legislation that protects profit over free speech, corporate America is moving to make organized dissent illegal.

To the deafening silence of the progressive community, six young activists have been sentenced to serve 13 years in prison collectively for interfering with the bottom-line of a corporation by operating a peaceful web-site. For the first time in American jurisprudence, what was once a civil court matter, now becomes a criminal affair if you oppose a powerful corporation. Dissent against injustice and wealth, environmental destruction and animal abuse, war profiteering and price gouging, once threatened with lawsuits, now faces an armed agent of the state.

This present scare, this campaign of intimidation against youthful radicals, is both unique to our age and part of a vile tradition of privilege protecting itself. The murderous government attacks on labor organizers, particularly the wobblies, at the turn of the 20th Century, which cemented wage slavery. The Palmer Raids against so-called "Bolsheviks" in the 1920's and 30's, keeping the social reformers at bay. The Red Scare of the 40's and 50's, denying civil liberties. The violent repression of the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement of the 1960's and 70's to Reagan's right wing take over. With the CIA dumping crack cocaine into the hoods and barrios, creating a pre-9-11 group to fear, druggies, with close to two million, mostly young people of color in prison; all reflect a disgusting tradition. The FBI is notorious for its roles in assassinations, evidence fabrication, snitch jacketing, agent provocateurs, infiltrations, harassment arrests and disinformation.

Thus, every generation of power, like whites in the south, uses fear and hatred to turn good, decent folks against one another. Today's Green Scare is no different. Threaten the activist, keep the sympathizer fearful. Yet, today, unlike previous eras, media concentration and information technologies are in a few corporate hands. In classic Orwellian fashion, over and over, they parrot the notion that civil disobedience against corporations - an inherently unjust, unsocial, undemocratic institution - is a "terrorist" activity.

As the young San Diego activists assemble in the aged building downtown, they listen and discuss with a law student what to do in situations with the FBI, knowing full-well no fund or organization exists in San Diego to protect or aid their Constitutional fight. They listen to a couple of older activists who salute their courage and commitment.

Not Just Another Cause, A Way of Life

But mostly they just socialize, finding strength in one another in their quest to lead authentic lives while watching each other's backs. Schooled on recitations of allegiance to the Republic "and for which it stands," based on the notions of a rich, spoiled brat named Plato, a descendant of rich Athenian kings, they are US citizens in name only. They sense all the nonsense of nationalities, ideologies, theologies, philosophies, political notions, pornographic titillations and market-driven advertising drivel, all amounts to a question of who profits by them. Like the Cynics of old, they understand, in that intuitive, natural sense of youth (before it is corrupted by laziness and greed) that the real basis of life is ethics.

"I do not possess, in order not to be possessed," Antisthenes, of ancient Greece, said. These several dozen young people, gathering in the old coffeehouse, in the crumbling building downtown, scheduled for gentrification, are his ethical descendants. A few hundred here in San Diego, a few hundred in the next city, multiplied across the nation, it is not only the potential for a movement - but a real possibility.

Listening to their dialogues. Tuning in on Danae's talk to the group on why she endured 80 days in federal custody, refusing to give up her Constitutional rights recently as part of San Diego's participation in the Green Scare campaign, outlines why this government and its corporate masters fear these youngsters so much. They are already free. All the bribes of shiny things and gismos, fame and celebrity status will not move most of them. And, more importantly, those negative reinforcements of social control by the elite, ostracism and/or prison, does not frighten them.

Their ethical base, the foundation of who they are and what they stand for, is built on their love of nature, our precious environment and, particularly, its defenseless animals. To watch members of the traditional peace churches, Quakers, Brethren and Mennonites and other peace niks ramble about peace over a meal where animal blood oozes down their cheek is revolting. To listen to social justice activists agitate for economic justice while still tethered to the corporate owned capitalist system built on competition and profit makes them ashamed.

They remember Gandhi's words, on how a society treats its animals reflects it's moral and ethical character. For them, the exploitation, torture, destruction and consumption of animals is a reflection of an obscene ideology which says all things, including living beings, are a commodity, a object that those with wealth and power have a perverse right to abuse. They understand the principles of Karma, what goes around comes around, what's good for the goose is…....well, we are already herding people into cages (at Guantanamo and other secret locations).

"In defiance of the order that ushers our dying Earth to her grave, let us stand together so that the fires of our hearts may burn against this dark hour of repression," a T-shirt proclaims as the young man talks about the need to support ecoprisoners. How refreshing, a holistic concept of activism! They understand that civil disobedience is a historically effective way to drive social change. From dumping boxes of tea into Boston Harbor to women at polling places to sit-ins at lunch counters, breaking laws that favor a few over the many is a traditional activity.

Yet, they understand, maturing in a corporate owned world, those in control will use the increasingly wealth based, politicized court system to fetter out draconian prison sentences to those that harm corporate profits - or even question the right of capital over people.

But where is the left? The tragedy is that this inner courage, this ethical strength, this commitment to fundamental change not tinkering, this Earth first mentality, on the part of young environmentalists and animal rights activists frightens mainstream, liberal and progressive groups. Most power liberals and progressive mouse warriors often have their whole persona (not to mention their stake in the economic order) invested in a mode of opposition that doesn't put them anywhere near confrontation and disobedience. Their opposition is safe, a self-serving illusion. Like San Diego Quakers who send checks off to the poor in distant lands through their myriad committees, wallowing in their goodness; while city police harass, starve, beat and imprison homeless people on city streets just blocks from their Meeting House. Radical youth have thrown away the blinders, the illusions. They understand we must act in our neighborhoods, in our local forests and streams, in the slaughterhouses and in the streets (like food not bombs) to actively oppose the mechanistic mindset of a corporate owned world.

Constricting the Mechanisms of Change

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, passed in the late 1990's, and amended in September of this year, then hurriedly sign by Bush, has nothing to do with terrorism against defenseless animals. In fact, it has nothing to do with terrorism at all and very little to do about animals. This legislation is all about corporate power and domination in the United States.

It not only creates a protected class of businesses from economic boycotts, which were so effective in the anti-apartheid movement, its new amendments, for the first time, inject into the legal system criminal sanctions against those who oppose "the right to profit." Every state, county, city or borough already has thousands of laws that protect persons and private property. There are even court cases that have ruled on eminent domain actions by local governments.

We also have volumes of civil law and civil courts that protect wealthy businesses, with their expensive attorneys. Anyone can be sued, for anything, anytime and usually are, when they oppose deep pocket corporations. But that is no great deterrent against boycotts and consumer education. Now, however, under the amended animal act, you can be prosecuted for peacefully "interfering" with the operation of a business. Protests, demonstrations, letters to the editor, any political tactics that hurts an "animal enterprise" endeavor can be construed to fall under the vague language of the law, which says "anyone who ‘damages' or ‘interferes' with the operation of an animal enterprise." Can defense plants, war profiteers, polluting industries, auto manufacturers be far behind in clamoring for these "special" protections. We could see the Hummer Enterprise Terrorism Act or the Dumping of Lead Into Rivers Protection Act.

Far fetched? The young people who gathered last Friday slid their quarters and dollars into a plastic container for six East Coast youth, called the Shac 7 (because their legal corporation for animal rights was included in the indictment), who have been sentenced to a total of 13 years in federal prison for operating a web site and supporting a boycott.

Their crime? They brought down one of the most powerful corporations in New Jersey, the infamous torture factory of Huntington Life Sciences. They didn't burn buildings, smash windows, not one ounce of violence; the prosecution never contended the 6 young activists participated in any illegal activity. They gave out information, recorded the boycott; one letter, one phone call, one visit to HLS's suppliers and buyers at a time. They maintained a web site where others involved in the campaign could post, share suggestions and actions. Similar, to our own San Diego activist web-sites - San Diego IndyMedia, Activist San Diego, Peace and Justice Coalition, Environmental Health Coalition, etc.

"We were lightening rods for government persecution," 27 year-old Lauren Gazzola, sentenced to 3 years, wrote from prison. She called the six "sitting ducks' because they were visible. In effect, they were convicted for the actions of others; those who sent threatening e-mails, late night calls, scuttling a yacht in the harbor, dead animals on porches and pornographic subscriptions to CEOs. All annoying actions, for sure, but terrorism? No one was ever hurt or assaulted, yet corporate America, through its US Attorney General, brought the full weight of the Justice Department against these six young people, without violent criminal records, who were simply pursuing their ethical consciences to stop the torture at HLS. They were prosecuted because they refused to oppose civil disobedience or direct action. Prison for passive silence over active inciting? What sad, frightening times we live in. Yet, where is the outrage from the left?

FBI Deputy Assistant Director, John Lewis, bluntly told a Senate committee last year that the activities against HLS "is not necessarily the work of Shac itself" but they should be prosecuted "because they are closely aligned." Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty, free speech? The Bush junta and its thugs now prosecute on the basis of "guilt by association," and "you're either with us or agin' us."

The anti-Huntington campaign, especially after the New York Stock Exchange dropped HLS, from its listings frightened corporate America to its core. Several New York corporations took out a $130,000 ad in the New York Times decrying "ant-business activists" who were contributing to "eco-terrorism," calling for the heads of the young Shac 6 on a platter.

Will Potter, in his Counterpunch article, "Green is the New Red: How the Bush Administration is Using Terror Laws to Persecute Nonviolent Environmental Activists," talks about a new culture of "red baiting, with a green twist." That the persecution and convictions were about installing fear; to defeat an effective strategy of using the market system, its layers of interconnected boards and officers, investor records, market markers, pink sheets, targeting any business associates from banker down to toilet paper suppliers to disassociate themselves from Huntington.

From Haliburton to San Diego's own Titan Corporation, board rooms trembled with collective fear when they looked at this campaign and noted more than 160 companies, including UPS and FedEx, stopped doing business with Huntington Labs.

With the conviction of the Shac 6, the United States now moves closer to the politics of third-world juntas and dictatorships where the severity of the punishment is based on the politics behind it. Where leaders and activists, like village chiefs and union leaders, are targeted for prosecution because "fellow travelers" or sympathizers commit an alleged crime.

Kerin Kjonaas, also convicted, recently wrote, "many dismiss radical activism and direct action as angry, immature and disruptive to the politics of the polite." He suggests that radicalism is much more than adolescent angst, "it is a reaction to the pressure of impending collapse, and a sincere attempt at affecting a measurable impact. Now more than ever, we should be discussing and considering these tactics in a desperate bid for success."

Another of the Shac 6 was Andy Stepanian, a 22 year-old student at Long Island University, long a target of local corporate interests, after his student group put Huntington Village Furs out of business through picketing and leafleting, was given three years in federal prison. Stephanian recently wrote his supporters, "I am writing this to you not to ask for help, but rather to assure you that the FBI, COINTELPRO, want you to be frightened by what is happening to me. Their goal is to scare each activist on Long Island by making an example of me by sending me to prison. If you allow them to scare you then they have started winning, they prey of fear and weakness."

Pointing out that "capital takes rank over compassion and property is of greater importance than people," he added, "that today legality no longer coincides with morality. So in order to live morally, you must be living outside the law."

He continued eloquently, "even though I am a captive, confined to a cell, starving and belittled, I am truly free. I may be behind bars but they cannot touch my heart, cannot dent my soul. Each civil rights activist behind bars in the 60's followed their hearts, and in doing so, great strides were made."

During the gathering last Friday, a police car raced by on Broadway, its red light flashing, its siren screaming. All those young eyes, turned, without fear and, more importantly, without curiosity. Some will live to see into the 22nd Century. The determination in their eyes, the strength in their blood-clean genes, the ethical mandate they will bring to the struggles of the future, bodes well for all of us.

Now, let's get off our butts, quit wallowing in our little puddles of identity politics, political nonsense, ego-driven issues and support them! It will be our parting gift to a fine new generation, wonderful, ethical kids who feel life, in all its forms, is worth fighting for - and, going to prison for!

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