Just hours after the Hedges v. Obama oral argument at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month, an amazing panel of activists – many of whom are co-plaintiffs on the lawsuit – joined together at the Culture Project in New York City. The discussion, moderated by Matt Sledge of Huffington Post and Natasha Lennard of Salon.com, was divided into two panels: the first on updates from the case against indefinite detention, and a second discussing patterns of government abuse more generally.
I arrived during the second panel to a packed room, and stood near the doorway. Michael Moore described his views on movement-building in response to government abuses of power. He used the metaphor of creating enough pin pricks along the roof of a building to lead to a watershed, and the opportunity to fundamentally change the existing paradigm. Moore referenced the recent Newtown tragedy. He then asked the audience and fellow panelists the chilling question, “What do we do to prevent the Newtown of this [government pattern of abuse, detention, and secrecy] from happening?”
One point of the conversation, however, concerned me. Chris Hedges made some broad generalizations about corporations that are not clearly linked to the detention powers of the NDAA. Although he accurately noted the disconcerting relationship between Goldman Sachs and the NYPD, as well as the destructive environmental track record of Shell, he failed to clearly link specific corporate activity to the NDAA case.
At one point, moderator Matt Sledge asked Hedges (viewable on this Democracy Now! clip), “Which of the corporations [that you are referencing] are lobbying for Section 1021 of the NDAA?” Hedges implausibly replied, “All of them. Who writes our legislation but corporate lobbyists?” Having acknowledged Hedge’s concerns about corporate power in other contexts, are all companies in the world really involved in promoting indefinite military detention under the NDAA? A simple logical test of that blanket assertion results in a negative.
In general, it makes sense to identify specific circumstances whereby corporations may be linked to civil liberty violations, such as the telecom industry’s increased role in surveillance. I do acknowledge and understand his mentions of corporate lobbyists and links to climate change. Vague generalizations linking all corporations to the NDAA case, however, can only lead to vague actions in response. As a journalist who communicates messages of social justice to the broader population, Hedges should be less reckless with his language so that audiences who receive his message are enabled to take effective actions in response.
During the Q&A, Michael Moore was challenged to defend his public decision to vote for Obama in 2012. His initial response: “I drive.” Then he went on to claim that simply by living in our society today, we are implicitly involved in all kinds of harmful and toxic structures (e.g. damaging the environment and depleting resources by burning fossil fuels). After illustrating his own personal family background of working in auto factories in Michigan, he emphasized that his decision to vote for the president does not lessen the need to criticize him. In fact, we need to work harder, yell louder, and hold the Obama administration more accountable now that the election is over.
Adding to Moore’s assessment of the Obama Administration, renowned Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg noted that Obama’s election has silenced many natural critics who were skeptical or even outspoken under the Bush administration. “We should not be holding back [our criticism],” he affirmed. Additionally, an audience member asked what kind of criticism Obama deserved, to which Ellsberg responded that the word “secrecy” has not been used enough in reference to his administration. Ellsberg continued to paint a somber macro-level picture of Obama’s desire to continue his global program of illegal assassination.
The panelists encouraged the audience members to visit StopNDAA.org, where you can read the latest updates about the Hedges case. Visit BORDC’s campaign to restore due process for more information about how you can take local action against indefinite detention, as activists in San Francisco did just last week.