By Eldon Katz, LUTU Member, and Kyle Schmidlin, guest contributor from Third Rail News
We all know people who define themselves as “socially liberal; but fiscally conservative.” They view their ideology as a mature, pragmatic, and disciplined compromise, the best way to get as many people what they want and maximize everybody’s liberty and opportunity.
But this vision of liberty is perverted and one-sided in favor of the powerful. It grants people the freedom to exploit, but not freedom from exploitation, effectively treating the liberty of the powerful as absolute but anyone else’s liberty as flexible. As Bertrand Russell put it, “The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.”
To the conservative libertarian, oppression only comes from the government, in the form of taxes, laws, and regulations. Certainly governments can and do oppress people, but so can any person or organization with power over people. Many of our taxes, laws, and regulations only exist because they were fought for by ordinary citizens seeking to protect themselves and one another from the oppressive behaviors of more powerful people and private entities.
Progressive taxation prevents concentrations of private economic power and can fund programs that free people from suffering. Regulations on business protect public health and safety from powerful, uncaring entities and prevent exploitation. Government’s default position is to maintain the status quo, but occasionally a chorus of citizens forces government to prohibit child labor, raise the minimum wage, or tell companies they can't pollute.
So-called libertarians characterize these regulations as oppression—as denying the individual the right to lord over a private tyranny however he wishes (and it is almost always a he). If he threatens your job and therefore your livelihood because you can’t work when you’re 35 weeks pregnant, it’s his right. If he wants to bring in goons to bloody your face and throw you out of the airplane seat you paid for, that’s his right too. But government recognition of the public will is oppression to the right-wing libertarian.
As long as capitalism defines our economic lives, inequality inevitably gives the wealthy real, tangible power over the daily lives of the poor. The average person's day-to-day existence is effectively dictated by someone else, and noncompliance can have devastating consequences. All right-wing policies exacerbate this dynamic. This is not liberty; it is the complete opposite. In fact, true economic liberty cannot happen without socialism.
What's nice about government—at least a functional one, which we don't have—is that human beings agree to sacrifice a certain amount so that their combined resources can build something greater than the sum of its parts, such as a mass transit system, a health insurance pool that covers everyone, or a service that puts out fires for free. Such things give people true freedom—freedom from pain and want and neglect.
Naturally the wealthy have no need for such things, so they want to opt out. They’ve created propaganda networks and purchased an entire political party to assist with that agenda. When people say, "I hate government," they may think they’re expressing a position of high integrity. But what they really mean is, "I hate organized human society."
Whether or not you are convinced by this article that the Right deserves no claim over the mantle of economic liberty, what about other liberties? Ask yourself who is consistently on the side of liberty when it comes to a woman's liberty to do what she wants with her own body, LGBTQ people's liberty to be who they are and love who they want, a black person's liberty to walk down the street without harassment from law enforcement, an immigrant's liberty to simply exist, anyone's liberty to smoke pot, the liberty of residents of coastal cities to not have their homes under water in a generation's time, everyone's liberty to not live in fear that war-mongering lunatics are going to get us all nuked.... We could keep going.
Conservatives have never been on the side of liberty, they just got really clever with language in recent decades. It's long overdue that we take this word back. It's truly pathetic that the Left has allowed the Right to claim ownership of liberty. Conservatism is the antithesis of liberty. Socialism is liberty. Let’s take it back!
The Importance of Jury Nullification
by Audrey Steiner, LUTU member
Our justice system is a failure. Citizens of color or with limited resources and nonexistent social capital disproportionately end up in prison, for which they and their families suffer consequences long past the prison term. What most of us do not realize is that there is a powerful tool, stifled by the courts, to combat these injustices. It's called Jury Nullification (JN) for several crucial reasons: it can nullify the power of laws that are unjust, are unequally imposed, or carry unfairly harsh penalties. By voting "not guilty," even when a defendant has clearly broken the law, a jury can prevent injustice.
Jurors might have qualms about taking this course of action because we have been taught that obedience to the justice system is integral to being a good citizen. But history clearly shows otherwise. In 1735, German-American printer and journalist Peter Zenger was put on trial in New York City for supposedly libelous articles against the king-appointed governor. Even after the jury was sequestered without food and threatened with prison and fines, it refused to convict him. This was only the first of numerous examples of jury members' using their power to alter the application and even the direction of oppressive and tyrannical laws in our country. It illustrates a form of civil disobedience that was carefully included by the founders of our country when the right to a trial by jury of ones peers was instituted as a guard against authoritarianism.
Since prosecutors, judges, and others do not want JN's anti-authority impact, juries are often instructed not to consider anything except the letter of the law and to notify an officer of the court if anything otherwise appears to be occurring. Defense attorneys are not permitted to inform their clients of JN's existence. Recently, a retired professor was arrested and charged with jury tampering for passing out pamphlets explaining JN. Therefore, it is best not to tell anyone when using JN, or you might be kicked off the jury and so no longer able to act against fundamental inequalities in our justice system. The chance to provide more than just symbolic action is rare and valuable. Decide within yourself in advance what your truth is and where your integrity lies. The Trump administration and the Republican legislature will seek to fill vacant judgeships with those whose political leanings are more important to them than actual justice. Jury Nullification can counteract that.
The Walking Dead
How the Zombie Apocalypse of The Walking Dead Prepared Me for Trump’s America
by Sharon Gillespie, LUTU member
Sunday after Sunday, I’ve moved heaven and earth to sit before the television spellbound for an hour. I’ve been there season after season with one incomprehensible, premeditated intent: to be horrified, repulsed, and traumatized inside the safe walls of my home. And I’ve not been disappointed. Each season of “The Dead,” my suspension of disbelief has indulged me with a weekly infusion of satisfying, self-inflicted, nail-biting stress.
Identifying as I do with Rick Grimes and “our people”—folks like Carol, Daryl, and Carl—I’ve survived outrageous terror that (no pun intended) is all-consuming. Not ordinary, ho-hum terror, you understand, but that born of the grotesque, bed-wetting fear of being eaten alive. And with leftovers after toothy carnage comes the fear of becoming the very thing that provoked such unspeakable fear—the undead itself, a disgustingly horrific, putrefying “walker”—a thing so vile to the human imagination with its gnarly growths, spilling guts, and chomping teeth that the infected welcome knife to brain to halt the disease’s progression. In other words, white-knuckled terror analogous to what “that sum’bitch”—as Daryl would call this president—has unleashed on America.
In Trump’s America, the thinking public finds itself on a stress-filled conveyor belt of danger and despair, constantly moving—interminably moving—toward the next official disaster. We have entered a world of political reality TV that compares only to fiction—and comic-book fiction at that. (But, then, in what other world could we possibly conceive of Trump’s hair? What kind of country elects a president with a dyed comb-over less comely than Eugene’s mullet? A scary thought in itself.) What previously passed for a difficult normal abruptly passed and is gone for the foreseeable future. Now, like Rick and “our people”—people like Rosita, Father Gabrielle, Tara, and Morgan—we, too, are yearning for a safe refuge where life with a semblance of normality can take root again.
For stress starters, look at those characters in the series who are both deranged and utterly contemptible (try on the governor of Woodbury—or Negan—for size). Then compare them with Trump—a man whose erratic behavior betrays his madness and whose government is—as is he—calculatingly immoral; arguably, even consciously evil. Should you have doubt, peer into the souls (or lack thereof) of McConnell and Ryan or of the swamp monsters populating the cabinet. Each brings to mind the ruthless Saviors of Sanctuary, who live off the assets of the other 98 percent, or the cannibals of Terminus, who feed on human prey. All while America’s military-industrial complex feeds gluttonously—like a herd of walkers—at the bloody trough of senseless death in endless war.
In a world dominated by a loss of humanity, the beleaguered survivors of the apocalypse have made rules for the fight to survive based on a new standard of morality: How many non-dead have you killed and why? In our very real world, the struggle is measured in acts of resistance: How many phone calls, letters, and petitions did you make, write, and sign today? How many marches, meetings, or rallies did you attend this week? How many relevant news articles have you shared, and how many people have you talked with about the political reality of the establishment Democrats that, frighteningly, many fail to see? Some of us are already working for progressive candidates for 2018; if you aren’t, I urgently encourage you to do so! The current genre of American politics is horror, and the battle between good and evil rages on at an insanely intense pace. So decide what you will bring to the fight—perhaps the king’s tiger?—then hone your skills and hunker down in warrior mode for the long haul. King Ezekiel only controls the tiger in his role, while we truly are the tiger in ours, and we are loose and hungry for a just world!
Meanwhile, amid the rust and ruin, the death and destruction of the apocalypse, Judith’s birth and Maggie’s pregnancy—as well as Carl and Enid’s budding romance—remind us that life keeps going on. Even in the altered state of reality that we live in, love will flourish and babies will be born. Certainly, it’s encouraging that, after all these episodes, Rick is still among the living with yet another woman by his side, and Michonne, who’s led leashed walkers on a bleak and solitary journey, is a woman of fierce prowess, as the times demand.
Finally, as with the zombie apocalypse, the political nightmare we’re living through has created something beautiful that wasn’t there before. Like the phoenix, America will be reborn from the ashes of a dreadful fire that consumes it. From places like Atlanta and Herschel’s farm to communities like Alexandria and the Hilltop—all over the country, we are coming together from diverse backgrounds and cultures, races, and religions, shape-shifting into the future, not as strangers, but as family members fighting in concert for each other, and the cohesiveness of that bond feels good. So rely on your own kind, my fellow progressives, drawing on the strength and resilience of the whole, which is our community—a community made up of “our people,” the best this country has to offer. And take comfort in the knowledge that, as hard as this is, it’s better to fight sociopaths like Trump and his despicable, greed-obsessed minions than do battle with the zombies.