Freedom of speech is something we equate with America.
Ours is a country supposedly founded on the right to say anything we want, anytime we want. I was told as a child in civic class that I could express myself freely without fear of retaliation or interference from the government. Unlike in Russian where people lived in constant dread of someone knowing what they were actually thinking.
But these days, you merely have to question out loud anything that the maniacs in D.C. are doing to end up with your name in the hands of some James Bond wannabe with a cheap Radio Shack bugging device.
The mainstream media has been filled with numerous stories about government surveillance of ordinary Americans for the heinous crime of speaking their minds. The American Civil Liberties Union Northern California branch recently released its latest findings on this spying, among them: In Oakland in 2003, police infiltrators not only joined a group organizing a protest against police abuse at a previous anti-war demo, but those individuals actually helped plan the route of the march. That same year, the Fresno Sheriff’s Department sent an undercover deputy to spy on a nonviolent peace group. The person attended actions and took notes at meetings.
NBC News reported last December that the Military’s 902nd Army intelligence group kept files on a queer kiss-in organized by Students Against War at the University of California at Santa Cruz to protest the anti-gay “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
In America, we have freedom of speech as long as we don’t say anything that those in power don’t like. Talk about how great this country is and how much you support the policies of the current right-wing regime, and you don’t have to worry about being on permanent record in some FBI file cabinet. Say you think the war on terror creates more terrorists and that the U.S. should stop sending aid to Israel and see how long it is before your intimate conversations with your latest fling are discussion material for agents in unmarked cars outside your apartment.
Here in San Francisco, many of us engage in free expression all the time. We put up countless ironing boards on street corners, leaflet commuters coming in and out of MUNI underground stations, organize rallies and press conferences, hold pickets and stage nonviolent civil disobedience. No day passes without someone protesting something. It’s what makes this city great.
It’s supposedly what makes America great, too. It’s never been true. Look at the witch hunts against the labor movement and the Communist Party that culminated in the House Un-American Activities Committee, an absolutely evil entity that destroyed countless innocent lives and careers. We should have learned then the cost of trying to curtail freedom. We didn’t. We had a psycho as head of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover was the very antithesis of the America that the huddled masses still yearn for. He was part of the big lie: Speak your mind and Big Brother will watch you, keep records, even interfere in your political activities. If your group gets too powerful, agents will join and work to destroy it from within.
Freedom of speech is a sham.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a working-class queer southern Italian performer, writer and activist who would gladly send the FBI his latest sexy pics and radical newspaper articles, if they would just ask nicely.