It’s the early ’70s. The Vietnam War is raging. Soldiers are dying daily with no end in sight. More and more military officials say it’s an “unwinnable war.” Lies are uncovered. The media begin to expose widespread military and law enforcement surveillance of the anti-war movement. The strong anti-war voice at UC Berkeley is a major target of this surveillance. The citizens of California, outraged at such blatant rights violations, respond by voting to amend Article 1, Section 1 of the California State Constitution. Going beyond federal constitutional safeguards, the amendment guarantees protections from privacy violations by both state and private entities.
It’s Mother’s Day, 2005. The Iraq war is raging. Soldiers are dying daily with no end in sight. More and more military officials say it’s an “unwinnable war.” Lies are uncovered. An anti-war group called CodePink, along with the Peninsula Raging Grannies and Gold Star Families for Peace stage a non-violent protest in Sacramento, calling on Governor Schwarzenegger, the Commander in Chief of the California National Guard, to bring the Guard home from Iraq. The San Jose Mercury News breaks a story that Schwarzenegger’s office called on the same National Guard to monitor the protest as part of its new intelligence unit’s “Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion” program. It has “broad authority” to monitor terrorist threats, which becomes distorted and misused, violating the Article 1, Section 1 rights of those who clearly are not terrorists.
But this isn’t the first time Schwarzenegger has allegedly used state agencies to monitor dissenters. The Los Angeles Times reported Schwarzenegger had the California Highway Patrol interrogate nurse Kelly DiGiacomo, who, dressed in her nurse’s uniform, participated in a protest outside a movie theater showing a film hosted by the governor, which she also attended. The Nurses Association maintains Schwarzenegger used the CHP as his “personal political police force.”
CodePink, the main organizer of the Mother’s Day rally in Sacramento, has been a visible fly in Schwarzenegger’s ointment since the day he opened his campaign headquarters, calling for an investigation of the multitude of alleged criminal sexual misconduct charges lodged against him. It organized a hugely successful and internationally publicized 16-city “Women Can Stop Schwarzenegger” day of protest. Its members were peaceful, yet vocal at stump speech, after stump speech. And CodePink was there on his inauguration day, letting Schwarzenegger know we heard his promise “to be a champion of women” and we we’d be watching him. But, little did we suspect that soon he’d be watching us.
Could it be that CodePink is feeling the payback for its outspokenness? Or with fast plummeting public support, is Schwarzenegger scrambling to put out any and all dissenting sparks, lest they fan into a raging forest fire?
State Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove (Orange County), and others are calling for an investigation to find out. Dunn asked the Guard not to destroy any evidence. Nonetheless, it erased the hard drive of Colonel Jeff Davis, the man overseeing the intelligence unit and its projects. The Guard’s responses have been all over the map, with one spokesman defending the surveillance saying, “We live in an age of terrorism.” Another said it was all just a big mix up. Still another said, “We don’t monitor people.” Yet, the Mercury News obtained Guard emails that showed major interest in the rally. Brigadier General John R. Alexander has refused to hand over information to Dunn, saying it would interfere with the federal investigation. As of this writing, Dunn, who claims Alexander is “hiding behind a federal investigation” has promised to issue a subpoena.
Clearly the truth needs to come to light via a full, independent investigation. The FBI and federal investigators must cooperate with Sen. Dunn and the state, not seize all the documents and move the investigation to Washington, outside the state’s jurisdiction and Dunn’s accountability hearings. And as for Schwarzenegger, if his promise to have a full, independent investigation of the sexual abuse charges against him and his prompt and shameless reneging of that promise as soon as he stepped foot into office is any judge, he will talk a good game, but will not pave the way for a substantive inquiry.
But this isn’t just about Schwarzenegger and California, and it isn’t an isolated incident. It has broad implications for how our elected officials use and abuse power in a way never dreamed possible before the protective cloak of the endless “war on terror” emerged. The administrations in Sacramento and Washington use pro-people rhetoric that in no way match their brazen pro-business policies. They are living in PR agency-constructed houses of cards. Any wind of truth threatens to topple their precarious facades to the ground. Legal or not, in such a guarded and vulnerable position, it’s no wonder they find protestors so frightening, and are working so hard to make the term “terrorist threat” inclusive of, if not synonymous with “dissent.”
It also brings to the fore the privacy and free speech rights violations that are happening all over our nation. Other peace groups have been infiltrated and monitored in recent months. Quiet, law-abiding shoppers at malls have been kicked out for wearing pro-peace tshirts. At Bush’s campaign stump speeches, anyone who didn’t sign a waiver promising to support Bush were not allowed in. In cities where Bush visits, protestors are cordoned off to the absurdly and ironically named “free speech zones,” penned and restrained, often by riot-geared police, literally miles from Bush’s entourage. Bush’s town hall meetings, marketed as a free and open dialogue with the people, are vetted to allow only Bush supporters in, and then they are closely monitored to create a smooth performance. White House press conferences, where the media are supposed to give voice to the concerns and issues of the people, have become even more staged and scripted. And reporters like Helen Thomas who ask the wrong questions are denied future access. At Schwarzenegger’s stump speeches, even his most stalwart supporters were not allowed to bring their own signs, but had to use the ones provided by his campaign, creating a perfectly on-message, homogeneous, color-coordinated mass of support. At his campaign stop in Pleasanton, CA, CodePink peacefully, yet not shyly protested Schwarzenegger. As a result, a woman who had no sign, or anything on her communicating any dissent, was refused entrance to this public event because she had the edge of her pink tshirt peering out of the bottom of her dark sweater. The guard who refused her entrance said, “We’ve reached our quota of pink in the audience today.”
Pink or no pink, investigation or no investigation, Schwarzenegger, who undoubtedly has an eye on the White House with only a tweak of a prerequisite in the way, is in trouble. With an ever-dwindling 34% approval rating, one of the lowest in the state’s history, the people of California are seeing the real Schwarzenegger, not the larger than life fantasy man, armed with clichéd, scripted dialog. Schwarzenegger has devalued and verbally abused our nurses, our teachers, our firefighters, and our disabled community. He has failed to “clean house” in Sacramento, ironically doing just the opposite – spending the bulk of his time doing twice as much fundraising as Gray Davis ever did. It turns out he’s not the antidote to Gray Davis; he’s Gray Davis on steroids. Borrowing the play book from Bush, he has unabashedly broken his promise to be “the people’s governor,” and proven to be “the big industry donor’s” governor. But as in ’72, the citizens of California, outraged at such blatant disregard and rights violations, will surely respond on the streets and at the polls, and in so doing, will save the country the gloomy fate of Presidential Candidate Schwarzenegger.
CAROL NORRIS, a freelance writer, activist and psychotherapist, is a member of and former national organizer for CodePink, organizing many of the protests against candidate and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. She can be contacted via her blog at http://carolnorris.blogs.com