Several weeks ago, there was a small protest against Guantanamo Bay and indefinite detention in Palo Alto, near where I live. From what I could ascertain, it was mostly high school students who belong to an Amnesty International club, but the invitation was posted publicly. I showed up to offer support.
I ran into David, who was a key member in Occupy San Jose in the fall and winter of 2011. He spends much of his time counter-recruiting- going to schools and instead of convincing students to join the military, he encourages them to consider education and vocational training instead.. Because of the pressures of that job he’s a rare combination- both nice and completely impervious to any kind of threat or intimidation. It was nice to see him. He handed me a spare sign he had and we talked on the corner.
Another man, likely in his sixties, carried a pole topped with a cardboard cutout of a Guantanamo prisoner in cuffs and a black bag over their head. Listed beside were a series of government officials responsible for the prison and other war crimes. He and David had a conversation, where he said something rather profound.
“I can’t believe I still have to do this.”
It is shocking to realize that 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan are almost twelve years ago. We just passed the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. It is understandable that people accepted serious violations of their liberties, and wars that at the time seemed important to domestic safety.
But that’s all since crumbled. The wars have been bloody and expensive quagmires. Domestic surveillance has extended far beyond what we feared from the Patriot Act- warrantless wiretapping, treating peaceful protesters as national security threats, an aggressive movement against whistleblowers and those that seek accountability. George W. Bush spent most of his second term at historically low approval levels, and the post-9/11 era should serve as proof that neoconservative thought is of no merit, and in fact more dangerous than what it seeks to change.
These institutions still exist, and many have been expanded under the current president. That this man had to hold a sign in 2013 reminding the public that indefinite detention still exists is, in some ways, beyond belief. Aren’t these atrocities self-evident? Isn’t the universal disdain four-fifths of the population had for the past decade proof that this security complex should be dismantled?
I guess I still have to hold a sign. As discouraging as these era is, the only thing worse would be to give up.