Civil liberties — use ’em or lose ’em

Police officers push back demonstrators as they protest against President Donald Trump in Washington on Jan. 20, 2017. PHOTO: Jewel Samad/AFP
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The U.S. government, monarchs, dictators and other protectors of the rich hate civil liberties. Because they provide protections to poor and working people against abusive regimes. In the U.S. these are called the Bill of Rights.

Muffy Sunde

These rights were not in the original of the U.S. Constitution, which was written to protect slave owners and big property owners. Radicals and small farmers who threatened to stop its ratification forced the inclusion of the first 10 amendments — the Bill of Rights.

Exercising our civil liberties has never been an easy ride. Slave owners, property owners and big business have been trying to squelch our free speech rights to organize and protest since the ink was dry.

The Haymarket martyrs were railroaded in 1886 to try to stop the movement for the eight-hour day. Socialists, anarchists and unionist immigrants were deported during WWI to chill support for the Russian Revolution. During WWII, masses of U.S. residents of Japanese, and even some of German and Italian backgrounds, were thrown into concentration camps.

Congress passed the USA Patriot Act after 9/11 and renewed it in 2014. It shreds privacy and free speech and denies trials to “terror” suspects.

I admit, it’s tempting to blame Trump for the current assault on civil liberties. He is so contemptuous of protesters who dogged his inauguration, so dismissive of football players who dare take a knee against police brutality. But he is just the latest example of state repression, not the source.

The U.S. media provokes fear about anti-Nazi “violence” at counter-demonstrations, and ignores the real threat to lives and free speech represented by fascist mobs. Its commentaries and reporting after the Charlottesville killing made little effort to explain the profound difference between what neo-Nazis and anti-fascists stand for.

U.S. government “terrorist baiting,” especially against Antifa — the anarchist wing of the anti-fascist movement, is an attempt to scare us into silence. As is the jailing of Reality Winner for whistleblowing Russian hacking.

But trying to shut us up isn’t working. Hundreds of protesters were arrested in Washington D.C. at Trump’s January 20th inauguration. Many now face felony trials for protesting Trump’s politics. Prosecutors insist demonstrating is a crime. The jury didn’t buy it and acquitted the first six of over 200 protesters charged! All remaining charges must be dropped!

Loud protests forced the court to drop felony charges against a Black anti-Nazi protester beaten with pipes by white supremacists at the Charlottesville rally.

In Tacoma, Wash., six people were arrested for chaining themselves to a drilling rig at the construction site of a liquid natural gas plant. Two went to trial and were found innocent based on testimony by former Puyallup tribal chair Ramona Bennett that they were arrested on contested tribal land and that the tribe opposed the plant.

Nothing generates support like a loud determined fightback. These victories would never have occurred if the movement hadn’t protested in the first place, and then held strong for courtroom disputes.

Ground zero in the battle over civil liberties is the fight to stop growing fascist shock troops. Some tell us to rely on the government to stop them. But these goons are in the street doing the dirty work of corporate America, with the government’s blessing. Their ultimate goal is to smash organized labor and the social justice movement.

As a lifelong unionist, I’ve learned that strong unions are vital to our working-class well-being. They unify across lines of race, gender, sex, and immigration status. They are indispensable to a strong united front against fascism.

Anyone threatened by racism, union busting, misogyny, anti-Semitism or bigoted bullying is on the same side. We all need to fight white supremacists vigorously to defend free speech.

It is not a crime to confront Nazis and run them out of town — it’s actually our constitutional right, not to mention our human duty. I gotta say, it’s also quite thrilling to stop fascists in their tracks.

When the working class and the ruling class face off against each other, our class vastly outnumbers the bad guys in numbers, skill, and courage.

We are fully capable of upending neo-fascism with the combined strength and experience that comes from defending our civil liberties.

To support: Inaugural protest arrestees, visit; Tacoma gas plant resistance, visit; Reality Winner, visit

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