Monday, March 14, 2011


I've spent a lot of time in courts around the country in the past twenty years. Not as a lawyer. As a political activist, or a court watcher, or sometimes a party.

When you are a political activist, it is inevitable that your activism will offend some member of the brotherhood of the bar, or some bureaucrat who objects to public scrutiny, or some elected official who feels they are public masters rather than public servants. When you offend the powers-that-be by exercising your rights or seeking reform, you will end up in court,  especially if you are any good at what you do.

I will be writing about my experiences for the past twenty years. Before that, I had never been haled into court. I was considered a law-abiding citizen.

I have always been a law-abiding citizen. The legality of my conduct has not changed over the years, except to become more law-abiding. I thought the law would protect my legal and protected conduct if I came under scrutiny for my public participation* vis-a-vis political activism.  I knew that if I was making the powers-that-be uncomfortable, they would pounce on me if I so much as jaywalked. So I made it my business to know the applicable law before I engaged in any conduct, and to act completely within the law.

I was right about the risks of jaywalking. I was wrong about the law protecting me.

I learned that the definition of law-abiding is not written in the law, and the law is not written in stone. The definition of law-abiding is in the eye of the beholder. It is written in the minds of the public servants who enforce it, with the interpretation they wish to place on it, using facts they created to support their abusive conduct. It turns out you can be convicted of jaywalking, even if you were sitting on your living room sofa twenty miles away from the scene of the crime when you allegedly did it.

What's it really like to stick your neck out for a cause? It depends on a lot of variables. The only perspective I can offer is that of a reasonably intelligent person who has little or no resources, championing an unpopular issue, against the most dysfunctional agency ever contrived by Congress, administered by and for extremely damaged people.

The most important observation I can make about trans-millenial political activism is that our government has had over two hundred years to perfect their legal  methods of short-circuiting the spirit and intent of the Bill of Rights, and they've gotten pretty good at it when they need to silence a threat to their established practices.

*Public participation is the protected right to participate in matters of public significance. This right encompasses the rights to free speech, to petition (this includes petition the court or government body) assembly,  association, press and more. It basically encompasses any lawful or constitutionally protected conduct that is intended to forward a political cause, raise public awareness or seek governmental reform.