I wasn’t much interested in all of the hullabaloo about the government spying on our phone calls, emails, etc., until I read this article about how the definition of “eco terrorist” is being stretched to include peaceful protests. If a “tree hugger” or “tree sitter” is a terrorist, then those of us who are members of any environmental or conservation group might also be labeled terrorists, too. I know there have been some people who have gone to extremes, like destroying the property of a company doing business that harms the environment or that tortures animals, and maybe those illegal acts can be stretched to fit the definition of “terrorism.” But even that is a stretch.
If all the protesters along the route of the Keystone pipeline are arrested, charged, convicted and jailed, what do we do? I’m thinking of those civil rights activists in the 50’s and 60’s who just kept filling in the places of the ones arrested, until the police didn’t have any more jail space. Do we have to do that? And would we?
And what about those of us who write articles and letters to newspapers criticizing the polluters? Are we a “danger” to the security of our nation? This past Tuesday evening, several dozen citizens spoke at a public hearing in Union, Mo., testifying under oath and for the record that we don’t trust Ameren Missouri to build a coal ash landfill in the Missouri River floodplain at Labadie. Some of us even hinted that Ameren bribes the decision makers with campaign contributions and by wining and dining them at parties when the American Legislative Exchange Council meets at fancy resorts. Since Ameren provides an essential product and service, does that make us subversive? Our faces are now in the video record, and our testimony transcribed by a court reporter. It would be incredibly easy for someone who wanted to intimidate us to find out where we live, get into our electronic devices, and do some real damage.
If this seems far-fetched, read in this DeSmog Blog article about the protesters outside a meeting of ALEC in Phoenix in 2012. I happen to know some of the folks who were there and protested. They are hardly the dangerous type, since most are middle aged or older and couldn’t do any real harm even if they tried. But that didn’t matter to the powers-that-be.
I’ve been to many protests where we were allowed to walk peacefully up and down a public sidewalk carrying signs. The operative word here is “allowed.” There are local rules and regulations about protests, rallies, parades, etc., and that’s fine. But how those rules are enforced can change pretty quickly. As long as we are not a real threat to the power structure, the police are told to just keep an eye on us. But step on some toes, as the Occupy protesters did, and permits are canceled, and off to jail they go.
Like the frog in warm water, we may be getting used to limits on our freedom of assembly and our right to criticize the government or the corporations that actually run the government. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to think twice about speaking out and ask myself how much I am willing to risk. I had a poster in the 70’s that said, “Just because you’re paranoid, don’t think they’re not out to get you.” Where is the line between fear/paranoia and the need to be really careful? I don’t know.
If you go to the website of the Labadie Environmental Organization, you can see a photo of the Labadie bottoms and the Ameren plant sitting right there next to the river. For now, no one has been charged as an “eco terrorist” for posting that photo or for taking interested citizens on tours around the area on public roads. At least not yet.