Legality & Justice Are Not Identical – Criminalizing Dissent

by Grant A. Mincy

CityCloudsExpected and official – the global surveillance state. The NSA scandal is currently dominating our media spotlight, yet perhaps we are overlooking an even more sinister threat – the threat of state and private security partnerships and their motives for criminalizing democratic social movements, free association and liberty.

An example, as reported by Nation of Change, is the crackdown on environmental activists from the corporate/state alliance. In their article, NOC tells the story of the Gas Drilling awareness Coalition of Pennsylvania. This group of concerned citizens (and rightly so) work to raise awareness of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing currently spreading across their state.  Though active and engaged citizens, one should hardly consider these folks “radical” or “extreme” by any sense of the word. The Coalition purposely remained moderate in tone, never engaged in civil disobedience, never even organized a protest, but they still found themselves logged in an intelligence bulletin from a private security firm (Institute of Terrorism Research and Response), investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security who distributed their information to local police, state, federal and private intelligence agencies and even found their information had been shared with the security directors of natural gas companies, industry and public relations firms. All of this for a moderate community group, just imagine the apparatus surrounding the whole environmental movement, and social movements in general (here are some other horrifying examples from the same private security firm).

This information is surfacing at an incredible time for the environmental movement. As I have written before, we are at a time in Earth’s history that we as species will have to deal with complex wicked environmental problems facing our biosphere and our own human civilization. We are seeing the effects of climate change at a global level, from extremes in weather, to specie migration, specie decline and changes in continental geomorphology. As a result, popular movements are forming worldwide in response to hydraulic fracturing (fracking), coal surface mining, climate change and more. In the United States, the largest environmental rally in the nation’s history, Forward on Climate, was organized in protest over the Keystone XL pipeline – a predicted game changer for the climate. As such popular movements have grown, so has the surveillance state. Environmental activists are among the top priorities of domestic security and  the state is sharing its data collection and intelligence effort with private security firms. As the state labels environmental groups as “extreme” or “radical”, and as surveillance rises, participation in such coalitions is sure to drop (as was the case for the Gas Drilling awareness Coalition of Pennsylvania).

WASHINGTON, DC-- 65 people on August 20th, 201...

WASHINGTON, DC– 65 people on August 20th, 2011 gathered at the White House to engage in Civil Disobedience. They peacefully broke the law and made a personal sacrifice to show the Obama Administration how severe the situation really is. Every day from August 20th-September 3rd, hundreds of people will be sitting-in at the White House to tell President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Visit for more details. Photo Credit: Josh Lopez (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is of course an incredibly effective way of slowing and systemizing social movements. If direct action, protest, civil disobedience and organizing is defined extreme by the state, with laws such as the Patriot Act and the NDAA (among others) waging war on Habeas Corpus, just what action do we the people have against invested special interests? Surely state sanctioned activities such as blowing mountains apart for coal, contaminating drinking water for natural gas, building nuclear plants in the wake of (just the latest disaster) Fukushima, ignoring climate science and, of course, the global hegemon for the attainment of energy resources is more “extreme” than grass-roots activist holding signs, chanting, singing songs or having a potluck dinner with neighbors while watching a documentary. With all the propaganda about “clean coal” technology, natural gas being a “bridge fuel”, climate science being “junk science” and more, community grass-roots action groups are leading the narrative and actions promoting localism, microgeneration, transition economies and other alternatives to the status quo. Working to silence them is incredibly dangerous and, if I may, radical. The corporate state is seeking to criminalize dissent, by itself defining what is legal, to create an even more obedient society.

Legality and justice are not identical, though legality is included in justice. It is high time we move to criminalize the state. Power does not imply justice or correctness, more often just the opposite. The state defines what is “disobedient” in a civil society but it is wrong in doing so. Society should be obedient to conscience instead of  law. What these environmental groups are doing is just – it is proper to carry out actions that protest and prevent the criminal actions of the state. In heavily subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, by using eminent domain or compulsory (forced) pooling to ignore property rights, in auctioning off public lands to large corporations, in waging war, in building nuclear arms that could annihilate the human species, the state is sanctioning its own immoral and unjust policies – deeming them “legal” while deeming direct actions challenging these policies “illegal”.

The state capitalist system we have today defends the use of fossil fuels, resource extraction and degradation of valuable natural resources and environmental services. State intervention is notorious in the energy sector, heavily subsidizing dirty, dated energy resources while manipulating markets to limit competition for major corporations. Corporations in the energy sector (like most sectors) now rely on government intervention in the market for their profits. As these major corporations dominate the captured market they are able to control policy. For an example: front groups with corporate funding, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, write legislation such as the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act – which seeks to mandate “balanced teaching of climate science” to promote “critical thinking”. This would be fine and good, except there is no real controversy in the sciences over climate change. The fossil industry needs there to be for their subsistence, however, so the propaganda war has been waged.  Scientific Journals, the International Panel on Climate Change, and University Scientists have found themselves in a rhetorical war with industry and supportive politicians over the problem of climate change, especially the human component. In the name of “Capitalism” and the “Free Market”, groups like ALEC seek to restrict information, alter public consensus and advance the state capitalist system.

As long as the current neo-liberal economic consensus exists grassroots activism will be in danger because grassroots activism challenges the corporate power the state serves to protect. In order to protect our liberty and our cultural and natural heritage we must seek a society free of the centralized nation-state, free of the centralized economy. We must seek a socio-economic system built on decentralized institutions, peace and voluntarism instead of the bureaucratic and hierarchical systems prevalent in the world today. Such a society would be organized by mutual exchange, (truly) free markets and participatory democracy. There would be no state sanctioned economic privilege, central planning or corporatist institutions. Instead, social and economic order would be shaped by consensus building, market exchanges and social democratic movements. From such a system a highly organized, peaceful, free and voluntary society would develop.

Important to note in such a libertarian society, is the importance of the very social activism the state is currently criminalizing. In this society the grass-roots would directly engage and actively shape the market, free from restrictive regulations and laws that seek to systemize democratic social movements. Solidarity, sustainability, and mutual benefit would be accomplished in such a market/social form. As the state would not have a monopoly on money production, violence or property, alternative and competing forms of economic systems and currency would develop.

In this decentralized socio-economic system, liberty would spread her wings and small-scale, sustainable, community based markets would build society.

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