Jul 6, 2018

Putting the Civil back in Civil Liberties

I'd really like to go back to a state of taking civil liberties for granted.

Civil - funny how that's so close to civility. But think about it means for a second. Civil, like civil discourse. And civic. Community. With liberties. Like the liberty to walk down Main Street in your underwear. That's a "civil liberty" -- one that we, as a populace, grant to other members of our community. Yeah, it's funny but also really empowering to think about, just how simple it is to let someone walk down the street in their skivvies without interfering.

Civil liberties used to be amazingly localized. It literally was whatever you could do in public and get away with.

It's worth noting that in this definition, white dudes really do have greater civil liberties than the rest of us. They can literally walk down the street naked and we'll call it "streaking". Ok, not all men, but if you're in a group you're probably golden. I could also run down the street naked, and if I'm with a bunch of people (aka dudes) you'd also call that streaking. If it's just me you might call the cops. Or ... think I'm a slut? Though, technically, slutiness really does imply a certain level of clothing, ironically enough. Actually that's hard to imagine too. It's hard to imagine what running down the street naked looks like as a woman, how people would take it. Catcalls, lots of cat calls. Also probably people trying to follow you.

Civil liberties are a thing that we grant to one-another. It's a pact between members of a community, a locality. Every locality has these rules, they're just not talked about as much, especially on the news. Instead we concern ourselves with the greater, written laws. At least, that's the case on the Internet and in larger towns and cities. You still hear, occasionally about small town papers which devote a few columns to the local civil liberties people have tried taking (and largely failed, hence their appearance in the paper). Like a police report for someone picking all the apples off a neighbor's tree, or dumping waste in your bin.

Civil liberties feel increasingly like a thing we have to ask for from a higher power. We've moved the locus of our civil liberties from our actual, participatory communities to this small, concentrated body of about 500 people, at least in the aggregate.

Well, that was dumb.

Now it feels increasingly like we're in a position where we have to ask for our civil liberties, and defend them -- from what?  Now the cops are arbiters of our civil liberties and sometimes I feel like we don't really question what that means about our community.

When you think about it, how much actual crime do you think is seen by police? Like, how much crime do they witness for themselves, in person, and decide to intervene as it's going on? Most of my understanding of actual police work comes from either the TV or being pulled over by a traffic cop, both of which are situations where police seeing crime in action are presented as the norm.  (At least that cop had better have witnessed me committing crime otherwise what the hell is she doing pulling my ass over?). 

When was the last time that you went to a large gathering of people that had some sort of authorized law figure present? Not as a private citizen, but in their official capacity of 'keeper of the peace', the Rule of Law there to observe the people, not to be of the people. We don't have large, unpoliced celebrations anymore. Not even carnavals! Jesus, not even carnavals. What kind of barbaric society have we become?

We're incredibly repressed. And we've done it to ourselves. We've gotten to the point where we're all, all of us, waiting to see what the tyrant does to our precious freedoms next. Or trying to see what we can get away with before The Law notices. That's Trump's game, anyway. We're not acting like citizens of a common, civil liberty community, but rather as prisoners who want to see how far they can push their luck before the whole thing comes crashing down.

Trump's gotten quite far, but he's not the only one.

What happened to us, as Americans? We used to be a community of smart, self-policing, self-assured men and women. Now we're scared. We're beating each other bloody out of fear, on both sides. We're not acting like communities we all feel as if we're fighting for our civil liberties.

Fighting for our civil liberties, not as a nation, as individuals.

We're doing this to ourselves. We, to each other. And for what?

Congress isn't the one raising the cost of tuition -- members of our community are. Congress isn't issuing debt trap credit cards and housing loans. Congress isn't doubling, or tripling the price of prescription medicines. Members of our community are. We are profiting off of others' misery. We are holding ourselves back from fixing everyone's fear and hatred.

A different way is possible. We can change. It's not nearly as hard as we make ourselves believe it is, because we've all, in some ways, forgotten what civil liberties actually are, at their root. It's not that hard, we just have to do it. We have to communicate, and we have to grant liberties to our community, to live their lives. All of us, together, with or without our "government" can get broadband for all. We can grant each other civil liberties.

Us. Each and every one.

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