The right to dissent is related to free speech, which is supposed to be guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. The right to gather together (assembly) is also protected in the Bill of Rights.   

Hundreds of peaceful protesters marching from the Cedar-Riverside area were ambushed and kettled by MPD, State Patrol, SWAT and National Guard personnel tonight and held on the I-94 freeway until they were arrested. The demonstrators were attempting to leave the freeway and were within meters of the exit after a short march, but were trapped by a line of police and not permitted to leave. The march was a [pre-]planned response to the United States election and featured multiple organizations in solidarity. The action was exceptionally peaceful, involving some families and children, and with no graffiti, violence or thrown objects—yet the police response, with hundreds of heavily armed and militarized state officers, some on horseback and with military vehicles, responded with disproportionate force. Photo Credit: Phil Ward. Source: Move For Justice News Facebook page.

Civil Disobedience

Years ago, when I was able to take to the streets in protest, I was part of the Honeywell Project that later became Alliant Action. We were arrested many times, usually for trespass, which really had nothing to do with what we were protesting, except that we did consider the building of weapons of mass destruction a trespass on human rights. But the charge was trespass and, according to the narrowness of the law, that is what we were being tried for. Some paid a fine, or refused and went to the workhouse instead, or were assigned to Community Service and became part of the cleaning street crews or were given other service as the judges saw fit.

We were accused of wasting taxpayer money in Hennepin County because they had to try us all in the courts, pay for jail time, etc. as if we were the criminals and not those who sought to destroy human life by building bombs and other ugly weapons designed above all to kill and murder.

Fast forward to today. Minneapolis and St. Paul have survived the protests caused by the death of George Floyd, who as you know was a Black man willfully murdered by a Minneapolis policeman as three of his cop cronies looked on, all captured on video by an alert young woman. The video went viral, sparking major protests worldwide and looting and burning in parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul and nationwide.

Although there have been arrests of white supremacists, who clearly were involved, especially in the burnings, I have not seen much about their trials or convictions. Chauvin, the policeman who actually committed the murder of George Floyd, has moved to another state away from Hennepin County, they say for his own protection.

Major protests have continued in the Twin Cities, where we speak as one major metropolitan area. Protests may take place in Minneapolis or in St. Paul at the state Capitol. For example, several thousand people turned out at the Capitol for a protest when the police who are Breonna Taylor’s murderers escaped justice, even though that occurred in another state. And it’s not all protests: webinars, vigiling, and educational forums are all part of actions being taken.

On November 4, 2020, two major demonstrations were called, one in downtown Minneapolis at the Hennepin County Government Center and another on what we call the West Bank near the Mississippi River and adjacent to the University of Minnesota campus. These two demonstrations met at highway I94, each marching to a nearby highway entrance, where they joined together and proceeded to block the highway,, demanding a revolving door of policy and cultural changes: Signs and handouts included Anti-War Anti-Racism stickers, Justice for George Floyd, Don’t Let Trump Steal the Election, All Power to the People, Climate Justice Means Ending War, Community Control of the Police, a Human Rights Day Rally with a theme of Legalization for All Black Lives Matter, End U.S. Aid to Israel, and more. The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCC4J) was the primary sponsor of the demonstration, which was also endorsed by a number of Twin Cities peace and justice organizations.

The demonstrators were “kettled” by law enforcement. That means they were encircled, trapped and not allowed to leave the highway. In the “old days” we always got three warnings. If you did not leave after three warnings, you were arrested or ticketed and assigned a court date.

Photo: WCCO

Apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children.… our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children.       Daniel Berrigan

Instead they are planning to put all these 646 people through the courts at great expense to Hennepin County. At taxpayers expense. To “punish” them for what? Disrupting traffic?  All those people in cars were inconvenienced. Yet the “inconvenience” of the needless deaths of Black and other people of color goes on ignored by law enforcement and courts, and by officials, as is Climate Justice.

A Broader Perspective

Daniel  Berrigan said, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, for the burning of paper instead of children…” in Vietnam after the Catonsville Nine protest. He goes on to ask, “How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? When, at what point, will you say no to war?” Whether in war abroad or war at home, human rights in this day and age do not apply if you are a person of color.

So, apologies, good friends, for the “disruption of good order” on Interstate 94 at the edge of downtown Minneapolis on November 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election in the USA. People are dying, innocent people of color are being attacked in the U.S., endless war is being waged abroad, and more and more weapons of mass destruction are being built, as if more weapons would solve everything.

After being ticketed on the spot, the arrestees are now receiving letters with court dates. I wonder if each arrestee were polled if they would agree it would much better for the county to spend the money housing the homeless, especially in a climate like Minnesota where soon it is going to get very cold. Or because unemployment because of COVID-19 is running out for so many , wouldn’t the money be better spent helping them?

To go forward with this charade of justice is absurd.

The right to dissent is related to free speech, which is supposed to be guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. The right to gather together (assembly) is also protected in the Bill of Rights.

The right of law enforcement to kettle seems a flagrant violation of Constitutional rights. Whatever technicality law enforcement has used to support their actions, kettling is a warlike tactic, and belies the spirit of the law protecting freedom of speech and assembly. Several people I spoke to who were actually on I94 would have left but were ticketed.

Photo: Louie Tran

Of course, such a crackdown does not indicate that a nonviolent action has failed, but rather that solidarity around issues of oppression such as those represented is a threat. Violent actions by law enforcement against nonviolent protesters like those that occurred during the George Floyd protests nationwide often result in a negative reaction against law enforcement. Kettling of nonviolent protesters and bringing them into the courts for their actions in daring to speak out against injustice in an act of dissent is also having a negative effect.

A Few Words About “Law and Order”

Trump has called himself a law and order president, bringing in the military and promoting law enforcement violence against protesters around Justice for George and other police murders of Blacks nationwide. We are moving toward martial law as a nation.

The war at home, the wars abroad, are all of one piece, driven by excessive greed and a militaristic mindset that does not recognize what, for example, Hannah Arendt in her book On Violence, rightly calls the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Obviously many in power think that what will stop social unrest is more guns and weapons and law enforcement people, when what is needed is a change in our government attitudes and policies, such as stopping the use of weapons of mass destruction worldwide that create huge immigrant populations and the imposition of over 1000 military bases and installations in other countries worldwide: U.S.A. as the bully of the world. Makes me ashamed to be an American.

Because it is not in their own self-interest, the ruling elite refuse to look realistically at the causes of social and cultural unrest that are the sources of the problem, as manifested in many ways—from blatant and subtle racism, to the need for gun control, to the neoliberal capitalist greed and worship of the almighty dollar above human life, to the planet in a chaos that threatens our very existence—all infused with a warlike mentality that is embraced by those who govern the country.

The Global Perspective

For a look at what took place on November 4th in a global context, I refer to an essay, “The Politics of Change: Why Global Democracy Needs Dissent” by Roland Bleiker.(1) Note the global connection. We are no longer isolated countries. Global communication simply reinforces the old Union saying: “An injury to one is an injury to all” if looked at from the standpoint of human rights.

At Honeywell we were protesting the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction by a company that built them; the target of protest was more direct. But their response was not. We were arrested for ‘criminal’ trespass, a property law, by the police as agents of the Honeywell corporation. Again, it was a disruption of law and order to call attention to a greater “fracturing [of] good order” as Berrigan calls it. Having order on a highway is important for safety and for people to get where they need to go, so it is ‘good order.’ But look over here, here where there is not good order. Stop. Look. Listen.

Here people are dying because of the color of their skin: being warehoused in prisons, children in cages, murder of young Black people for no reason. The list gets longer and longer. And in the endless wars waged by the U.S. it is the people of color who are getting bombed, who are the refugees, who are leaving their own war-ravaged countries, some seeking political asylum. Stop. Look. Listen. Something here needs your attention. Something here needs to be changed.

Bleiker talks about the need for order in society but also about how law and order can be unjust. And that at times  dissent in the form of disruption of order is necessary for a democracy to function.

As Bleiker, who is Australian, looks at the concept of order, he recognizes the need for order in all societies, noting that:

“Order is a necessary pre-condition for democracy, the rule of law, the provision of human rights, and human civilization itself.”

Having said that, he also recognizes that

“…the politics of order and the politics of disturbance are more intricate than they might seem. Many injustices, from domestic abuse to torture and genocide, occur not from lack of order but under an unjust order.”

Bleiker uses Nazi Germany as an example, a regime that had a “meticulous infatuation with order,” yet called for and acted upon promoting the genocide of whole groups of people who did not meet their idea of racial purity. How far away are we from that same idea, with the police killings of Black men and women, with a system that basically discriminates against all people of color and people who, in a country founded on principles of religious freedom as stated in the Bill of Rights, are not white Christians.

Some of my ancestors came on the Mayflower to escape oppression, especially religious oppression. And now our government oppresses countries all over the world as well as certain groups of people within our own country whose skin color or religious beliefs do not agree with theirs. How low can a so-called Christian nation go? American behavior, especially under the Trump administration, is anti-Christian. Now that we have elected Biden, we still protest because on a lot of issues, including militarism and racial questions, Biden’s past record is abysmal. Will we get a Green New Deal? All that remains to be seen.

It is true our founding fathers could not have foreseen what freedom of religion means in the 21st century, nonetheless they were oppressed in their own European countries for being Protestant. A component of economic development was involved as well. They were part of an emerging middle class, the bourgeoisie as they were called in France, that challenged the prevailing economic model of the middle ages with its serfs controlled by royalty on huge estates, often granted to them by kings.

This dual legacy of freedom of religion with its economic component is part of American heritage. That this economic component was built in is often not recognized. But it still colors the actions of the U.S. government today. Always with oppression, whether of race or religion, there is an economic component. The oppression of people of color by the “royalty” of the ruling elites and their control and exploitation of the economy for their own benefit is being challenged by those demanding rights that should be theirs under the Constitution. Voting itself is a good example from this last election, when various Jim Crow tricks are still being used to curtail votes by people of color.

Does this all seem a far cry from a protest by a few “dissidents’ on an interstate in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the USA? In demonstration/protest terms 646 may seem a small number if compared to demonstrations happening worldwide in some countries. But all the people have not gone away who protested the unjust death of George Floyd and so many other Blacks and people of color nationwide and worldwide. In the U.S. many may have voted for Joe Biden, but that does not mean all are content to sit back and stop activism against so many unjust systems in place in the USA that need to be changed. It’s a very long list.

Locally, nationally, and worldwide, the voices of dissidents are needed to challenge oppressive orders and to promote a more just global society. To institutionalize this process is unrealistic. Dissent is an essential component of democracy Bleiker says.:

“A functioning democratic system, one that listens to and debates grievances and heeds dissident voices, is far more likely to generate political outcomes capable of avoiding such disruptive and often violent scenarios.”

Drop the charges. Instead listen to the dissident voices, the grievances and the pain, and change what causes them. I’d rather see dancing in the streets.

(1) Bleiker, Roland. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Dynamics of Dissent, IX, No. 2, 2008, pp. 33–39.


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By Published On: November 26th, 2020Comments Off on A View from the Ground: Why Drop the Charges Against ALL I94 Arrestees in Minneapolis Post-Election Demonstration?

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