By Seana Sperling
Since the beginning of the new millennium some people have been guarding their words as if they were in a Communist country. When George W. Bush came into power in 2001 and after the tragedy of September 11th, we became engaged in another war. Mainstream media was almost completely silent on the negatives of a War on Terror.
I have always been anti-war and I viewed this War on Terror, as so reactionary that I could not be silent, but I noticed some other generally outspoken people were being careful about criticizing Mr. Bush and the military strikes in Afghanistan. I also noticed how few people were showing up at Peace Marches. I suppose some were afraid of the Hawks screaming at them, “Support our Troops!” I think a good way to support them is to bring them home, alive.
In 2002 I took an Adjunct Faculty position at Boise State University for a few months. Occasionally, I would meet a colleague for lunch in the Student Union Building. One day I was denouncing Mr. Bush and the war in Afghanistan and she leaned in, with a look of fear in her eyes and asked me to keep my voice down. I found out later that the Neo-conservative Republicans on campus had recently gone after her close friend, who was a dynamic Professor and advocate for social justice. The Professor had been bullied out of her tenured position.
Dial up to 2012 in Seattle. I went to a meeting about our Union Contract that summer. We could speak freely about the contract, but after we finished the meeting a few of us remained because we had additional questions for our Union Representative. Oddly, one woman who was sitting next to me said, “All people involved in politics are pigs.” I responded, “Everything is political.” Then she stalked out. I’m unclear for whom she was making this statement, but I did have an Obama button and an anti-Mobbing button on my purse. It felt as if she were trying to make someone feel ashamed for being involved in politics and I’m not sure if she was referring to the Union Representative or me.
Currently at this same college, we have lost our newspaper, which was replaced with a fanzine. The Journalism Program, which was directly linked to the newspaper, also disappeared. The Publishing Arts program went away. The Film Program closed, even though the Film Program Faculty worked hard to find a way to make the program self-supporting. So many venues for creativity and free speech have shut down on our college campus. Sadly not that many people protested the closing of these programs. For the ones that said nothing, were they fearful or merely indifferent?
It is not just our campus however. Free Speech venues are disappearing on so many college and university campuses and in many cases these are not even private schools, but State-run institutions. How can you have education without diversity of opinion and forums to express them? Expanding your knowledge and questioning ideas and mores defines education. There can be no increase in knowledge without testing, questioning and analysis. If criticism and questioning authority is dampened, then you have nothing better than indoctrination. Frankly I had enough of that in the parochial school I was forced to attend as a child.
People are easily silenced if they are uninformed and fearful. That is why the Fire and Brimstone teachings of the Old Testament were so successful. If you threaten people with death in a river of fire unless they are obedient, the believers will stay the line. This is Gaslighting.
We are constantly being Gaslighted by mainstream media, the corporate-controlled media, into worrying about terrorists, the damaged Economy, the threat of lethal viruses, etc. The description of Gaslighting is: “deliberately frightening or confusing someone.” Gaslighting is a propaganda tactic that was used by the Stasi, the Nazis, Communist China and Soviet Russia and this is currently being implemented in the United States.
If we are constantly gaslighted and cannot look beyond the mainstream reports, then we cannot make informed decisions. If you are bombarded with reports of stabbings and violence in the downtown Seattle area, then you may fear going downtown. I go downtown a lot and I have not been stabbed. We are also constantly gaslighted about sex offenders on the nightly news as well. Is this to make women and children fearful of their every move?
I see the Gaslighting that is being spread by mainstream media as a kind of conditioning. Create a scenario that there is a menace everywhere, so people will want more protection and may give up more of their rights for the perception of safety. Loss of rights does not make you more secure. It just makes you more of a silent serf.
We have incrementally lost more and more rights over the last decade. Privacy is a huge one. John Ashcroft unveiled Freedom Corps in 2002, which included Senior Corps, and other groups that were designed to be the eyes and ears of the Government. Their Patriotic mission was to watch for unusual behavior from their neighbors. Ashcroft’s Freedom Corps established under FEMA empowered civilians to watch “anti-American” types that were critical of the Bush Administration and the war. Even sororities were called upon to keep watch on college campuses. (I had an Impeach Bush sign in my window from 2003 –2005 and some of the Neo-cons in the neighborhood complained about it to some of my closer neighbors who told me. My sign was really none of their business. Currently some neighbors do not like my No War sign.)
This surveillance strategy can turn naïve people in the community against any activist that Corporate America or the Neo-conservative Republicans do not like. Anyone can appear on a Watch List and be followed around and harassed by VIPS or Freedom Corps Members. You have to wonder what sort of credentials these volunteers have and what kind of training they receive. Also, just who are they policing? Are they policing real threats (because this would seem to put the volunteers lives in danger) or are they just policing activists or so-called “anti-American, “types? I see it as another way to chill dissent.
Thus far the majority of U.S. citizens have been Gaslighted into giving up privacy by accepting these highly touted surveillance campaigns and devices (which are not making us more secure, but just more oppressed). Sadly the majority of citizens are not speaking out against this abuse of The Bill of Rights. Even now with the recent reports of the massive NSA spying program, the majority of people remain silent.
When I was in Peace Corps in the former Soviet Union in 1992/1993, I experienced many cultural differences between Estonia and the U.S. In the very small town where I was living, many people walked with their heads down. If I said, “Tere,” (Hi) to them some would regard me with suspicion. (I was the lone foreigner in town, so I knew they knew who I was.) Even in the large cities, most Estonians were almost completely silent on public transportation. Freedom of Speech didn’t seem integral to the system and people seemed fearful and suspicious in general. According to Estonian friends of mine, they had formerly lived under a system where Party Members would snitch on them for anything and even for observing Christmas in their own homes. I hope things are much better for them now.
Back here in the land of Democracy, non-public figures that are Peace, Environmental, and anti-Nuclear activists and scholars have been spied on, harassed, wrongly arrested and some are harassed everywhere they go. Some have been experiencing abuse from even members of their communities since 2001. An Instructor at the college where I work, was sent hate mail and death threats because he made a statement against the wars in one of his classes.
A Filmmaker and Instructor on campus also mentioned that she felt she had been targeted for activism in her Union according to an interview she gave to The Warren Report. (Coincidentally, she has also made several films about Human Rights issues, including a film about oil production in the Niger Delta called Sweet Crude. During production, she and her crew were incarcerated for hours on ridiculous charges in a Nigerian Prison.)
There seems to be a trend to punish those who would stand up and challenge authority as well as the growing trend to remove forms of personal expression and critical thinking. The fact that it is happening so much in Higher Education should set off all sorts of alarms, however, most people have their heads buried in their cellphones and their brains are on Autopilot or they are just plain fearful to say anything.
Mainstream media is also playing a role in silencing dissent and the surveillance society. Some outlets of mainstream media are airing stories that demonize people that speak out. We also have vilification via the Internet and the Trolls really go after outspoken women.
I have been accused of every evil under the sun by anonymous posters on various websites for speaking out against war, the corporate take-over of America, racism, rent-gouging, organized bullying (Mobbing) and other social justice issues. On www.rotteneneighbor.com I was accused of being a child molester, prostitute, redneck, etc. I made the Webmaster take it all down. Most recently an anonymous comment under one of my articles, The Punishers, instructed me to, “Shut up and take the blue pill.” I have also had anonymous death threats from online trolls. One suggested that I should be “put down.” Another said was a good candidate to take, “a leep (sic) off the Aurora Bridge.” The bullying went offline years ago and perhaps once a month I’m called the C-Word, the B-word, the W-word on the street by complete strangers either jetting by in a car, or on a bicycle or from a safe distance. I have even been spat at and upon over the years. (I believe some of us are being used as scapegoats/examples to chill dissent. It ain’t fun, but we cannot remain silent and fearful. A silent society is an oppressed society.)
We have to remember this is not new and that when a public figure, Jane Fonda took a stand against the Vietnam War, some people began calling her the W-word and saying she was anti-American. Fonda was following her conscience, but this made the Hawks very unhappy, thus they wanted to punish her and attempted to destroy her reputation and career. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were also vilified and followed around and harassed for their stance against the War in Vietnam.
The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Dr. King was fearless and dealt with Cointelpro harassment for years, yet did not remain silent. (Read, The Cointelpro Papers.)
I saw a great bumper sticker a few years ago, “Speak out, even if your voice shakes.” We have to speak out. This is what being a United States Citizen is all about. This is a country rich in diversity of cultures, ideas and invention. We have to get away from thinking that we have to “Go along,” with the bullies to, “Get along.”
Fear and Free share many of the same letters, however they are quite different in meaning. In fact you cannot have freedom if you are a fearful person. So why is it that in the “Land of the Free,” there is so much fear about speaking up about injustice?