Mean What You Say

Open Letter to President Obama,

I listened to your eulogy for Nelson Mandela, and I was moved by your words. I believe you really mean what you say.

If you do, why is dissent in the United States not respected and supported in cities across our land?

Why is it that my friend, Dennis Apel, is prosecuted by our government for exercising his right to protest on a public road, behind a green line, in a place designated by the commander of Vandenberg Air Force Base for protestors?

Why does a man of conscience, who serves people as a Catholic Worker, have to defend his right to disagree with his government? Why is this man of peace persecuted for holding a sign that says “No More War” or “No More Nuclear Missiles”?

In South Africa, you told the world that all governments must not only allow but welcome peaceful dissent. Why does this not include Dennis Apel in the U.S.?

He is not the only one arrested here at Vandenberg. Old men and women are arrested also, thrown to the ground, handcuffed … just for speaking truth to power in a peaceful way. Where is your justice department then, when they need you to defend them?

If you are a man of your word, welcome dissent here in America. Talk about the police around this land who now act like paramilitary SWAT teams.

I taught at University of Pittsburgh in 2009, when there was a G 20 summit. You waved at me as you drove by, and I was so proud and happy to wave back.

Then, peaceful students on the University of Pittsburgh Commons were surrounded and arrested by police who were dressed for paramilitary combat, and for no cause. They were clubbed, gassed with chemical weapons, shot with rubber bullets. Why? Because they were on campus chanting “We the people have the right to assemble.” These same police, recruited from around the state, went into dormitories and rounded up students who ran to escape the brutal attack of the police.

Where was the right to dissent in Pittsburgh that day? Where is the justice for those students who broke no laws but were brutally arrested by an out-of-control army of police?

I am a 67-year-old Vietnam vet. My question is: “What do young men and women in our military fight for if not the freedom of speech, the freedom to stand up to our government and say, ‘What you are doing is wrong.’”

Too many dissenters are being arrested and jailed and persecuted in our country, and the silence around this injustice is deafening.

Mr. President, Where is your voice for dissent in America? We are all waiting for you to set the voice of American dissent free.

With hope that you meant what you said in South Africa.


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