My roommate came home tonight and said, in walking the few blocks home after having dinner with a friend she was a little apprehensive, not wanting to get mugged. There have maybe been a few extra reports of some purse snatching and a holdup at a nearby Subway, but nothing that I would consider a “crime wave.” In reality the neighborhood is probably just as safe/unsafe as it was a few weeks ago, but for her, the perceived possibility of an attack, even though minor, was still a cause for an added level of vigilance.
It’s no secret that fear is used to get people to do a lot of things they might not do otherwise. Most people would agree that fear was the driving force behind the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and likely the reason the USA PATRIOT Act (does that name still gross anyone else out?) was able to get the support it needed to pass through Congress. Fear is a powerful tool often used to convince, and it continues to be used by those in power to keep control and avoid rebellion and retaliation by those being oppressed.
This past Friday night, a group of 30 students occupied an upper level floor in the DePaul Student Center in the late evening, calling for a discussion with trustees about a vote the next day about possible tuition hikes. As I followed the story via twitter and time approached the 1am closing time of the Student Center, news came across that students were being threatened the possibility of losing their financial aid if they did not leave. Fear. The 30 students discussed with one another their desire to stay the night or leave together in solidarity, knowing that they might be putting their education on the line should they stay. In the end, while students voted 16-14 to all stay, because many feared losing, only 14 stayed behind to continue the occupation.
The next morning I woke up, thinking about the situation. What would happen (there may be forthcoming repercussions, we don’t know) if the administration cuts grants and financial aid? It would probably be a shit of a PR fiasco, I would imagine. Many local news stations covered the occupation, so likely the financial aid controversy would be an interesting story, too. Or what if the students had been arrested? The university obviously knew this wouldn’t be good for business (it is a private school, so technically an educational business), so students were actually allowed to stay, though were moved to the ground floor.
Then today, Monday, my twitter feed told me about the passing of the bill H.R. 347, the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.” It basically ups the ante on the penalty — now a felony — for protests or actions in certain conditions and locations in restricted area. This informative article on a socialist website tells the (frightening) details. If I want to protest, now I have to be worried about the possibility I might be committing a felony — something that in many states would even restrict my right to vote! Fear.
When I think of “restricted” areas, I’m hearkened back to my time in the West Bank. Areas in the West Bank are often called restricted to keep Palestinians out, either temporarily or long term. Are these oppressive practices what the US is now turning too?
It continues to worry me the way this country is moving, continuing to support the rich and powerful while oppressing others, using the government and courts to provide legitimacy for the oppression while still seeming to be acting in the good of all. In Syria, we see the results of an oppressive regime taken to the extreme: death to those who resist. I hope we may possibly turn things around in this country before that happens, but the more days go by, the more I wonder what this country will look like in 50 years.