An intelligence unit of the California National Guard monitored anti-war protesters who gathered at the state Capitol on Mother’s Day, the June 26 San Jose Mercury News reported. The article noted that press staff of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had given the Guard unit advance notice of this demonstration.
The Guard, in turn, tapped a program dubbed “Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence” to protect the public from possible civil unrest as a result of the protest. The anti-war activists who were spied on hailed from the women’s peace groups CodePink, Gold Star Families for Peace and Raging Grannies.
At first glance, the Guard’s monitoring their protest from afar as a way to pre-empt any potential trouble appears comical. But not if such an exercise of government power is put into the context of Schwarzenegger’s political agenda.
Its central feature is the weakening of the state’s regulatory and social safety framework under the guise of “reform.” The state’s budget deficit, largely a result of the stock market swoon, has been the main focus of the governor’s reform drive.
Balancing the budget will restore California’s competitiveness, he claims. Presumably, reigning in government over-spending will pave the way back to prosperity.
Initially, the so-called war on terror enhanced the governor’s reform agenda, as he hitched his wagon tighter to the White House’s post-Sept. 11 momentum. More recently, though, the poster boy for the state Republican Party has seen his public approval ratings decline sharply.
Despite and because of that, the Guard’s recent monitoring of women’s peace groups is likely the tip of the government surveillance iceberg. In Schwarzenegger’s right-wing calculus, anti-war dissidents and labor activists are malcontents who threaten his power and privilege, be they peaceful grandmothers, or firefighters, nurses and teachers who have been protesting his achieved and proposed labor reforms statewide.
Schwarzenegger, funded by corporate backers, is using a November 8, 2005, special election partly to neuter public-sector labor unions by restricting their ability to fund modern politics. The paycheck-protection initiative would require union members to okay the spending of their dues in the political arena.
Yet politics is more than elections. Politics between these electoral exercises can also develop a social vision that engages the population in ways that threaten the power structure.
Typically, government’s response is to try and destroy such popular movements. This is a trend in U.S. history.
National Guard units mobilized against left-led labor unions that had a progressive social vision during the Cold War years of political repression. Then, conflict with a foreign demon, the former Soviet Union, gave the U.S. government a pretext to join with commercial interests to co-opt and disrupt the American labor movement in part by equating its radicalism with communism.
With the fall of the fSU, such red-baiting to protect the vaunted American way of life has lost its luster as a political tool. In its place, however, is the so-called war on terrorism.
History, of course, does not repeat itself exactly. Yet it would be naïve to presume that anti-war demonstrators are the only people being monitored by the state security apparatus with a not so-Invisible Hand from Schwarzeneggers administration.
SETH SANDRONSKY is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org