Archive for January, 2014

Pete Seeger and the Power of Song

“My job is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”—Pete Seeger

“The world will be saved by people fighting for their homes. Homes will be saved by people who fight for the world.”—Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, the 94-year-old activist-singer-songwriter who tried to change the world with every note he uttered, has died, and we are all the poorer for it.

A longtime friend whose letters I treasured for their hand-drawn embellishments and whose words of encouragement urged me to keep on fighting, Seeger belonged to a dying breed of Americans who cared more about making a difference using whatever resources were available to them than luxuriating in creature comforts and basking in the glow of their greatness.

Long before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix or Bob Dylan, there was Pete Seeger, a lone ranger fighting injustice with little more than a five-string banjo in hand and a gift for putting words to music. Unarguably one of the most important musical influences of the 20th century, Seeger helped to lay the foundation for American protest music, singing out about the plight of everyday working folks and urging listeners to political and social activism.

Born in New York City on May 3, 1919, Seeger, whose father was a pacifist musicologist, was plunged into the world of music and politics from an early age. He studied sociology at Harvard University until 1938, when he dropped out and spent the summer bicycling through New England and New York, painting watercolors of farmers’ houses in return for food. Looking for but failing to get a job as a newspaper reporter in New York City, he then worked at the Archives of American Folk Music at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In 1940, Seeger met Woody Guthrie at a Grapes of Wrath migrant-worker benefit concert. Seeger, Guthrie, Lee Hays and Millard Lampell joined together to form the Almanac Singers, which became known for its political radicalism and support of communism.

In 1942, Seeger was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Saipan in the Western Pacific. After the war, he helped start the People’s Songs Bulletin, later Sing Out! magazine, which combined information on folk music with social criticism. In 1950, Seeger formed The Weavers with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. Targeted for the political messages behind some of their songs, the group was blacklisted and banned from television and radio.

In 1955, the House Committee on Un-American Activities subpoenaed Seeger to appear before them (read his testimony at http://www.peteseeger.net/HUAC.htm). During the hearings, Seeger refused to disclose his political views and the names of his political associates. When asked by the committee to name for whom he had sung, Seeger replied:

I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches, and I do this voluntarily. I have sung for many, many different groups—and it is hard for perhaps one person to believe, I was looking back over the twenty years or so that I have sung around these forty-eight states, that I have sung in so many different places.

He was sentenced to one year in jail but, quoting the First Amendment, successfully appealed the decision after spending four hours behind bars. Nevertheless, he was blacklisted most of his life from normal radio and television work.

During the 1960s, Seeger traveled around the country, continuing to play his folk songs for the peace and civil rights movements. Deeply offended by the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Seeger, along with other folk singers such as Joan Baez, led many protests.

“Wherever he was asked, when the need was the greatest, he, like Kilroy, was there. And still is,” said his long-time friend, Studs Terkel. “Though his voice is somewhat shot, he holds forth on that stage. Whether it be a concert hall, a gathering in the park, a street demonstration, any area is a battleground for human rights.”

In 1963, Seeger recorded the now-famous gospel song “We Shall Overcome.” In 1965, he sang it on the 50-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and 1,000 other marchers. That song would go on to become the anthem for the civil rights movement and be translated into many languages. Seeger also turned his attention to cleaning up the Hudson River that ran past his home. In 1966, he helped form Clearwater, an organization dedicated to educating the public on environmental concerns such as pollution and protecting the river. The group offers educational programs for children on a 76-foot replica of a traditional Hudson cargo sloop and holds a two-day festival on the banks of the Hudson River every June.

Seeger was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts and the prestigious Kennedy Center Award in 1994. In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his contribution to music and to the development of rock and folk music. In April of that year, he received the Harvard Arts Medal, and after decades of creating songs, in 1997, Seeger won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for his album, Pete. In May 2009, a broad cross-section of musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Emmylou Harris and others assembled at Madison Square Garden to pay tribute to Seeger and celebrate his 90th birthday.

Right up until the end, Seeger never stopped speaking out and he never stopped urging young people to follow their hearts and take initiative: “Well, here’s hoping all the foregoing will help you avoid a few dead-end streets (we all hit some), and here’s hoping enough of your dreams come true to keep you optimistic about the rest. We’ve got a big world to learn how to tie together. We’ve all got a lot to learn. And don’t let your studies interfere with your education.”

In an interview I conducted with Pete Seeger several years ago, I asked him whether he had found an answer to the question “When will they ever learn?” which he repeatedly posed in his song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”

Seeger’s response is one for the books:

We will never know everything. But I think if we can learn within the next few decades to face the danger we all are in, I believe there will be tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of human beings working wherever they are to do something good. I tell everybody a little parable about the “teaspoon brigades.” Imagine a big seesaw. One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it’s got a basket one quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, “People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but it is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in.” Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years—who knows—that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, “How did it happen so suddenly?” And we answer, “Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years.”

But I don’t think we have forever. I now believe that all technological societies tend to self-destruct. The reason is that the very things that make us a successful technological society, such as our curiosity, our ambition and determination, will also cause us to fall.

Rest in peace, Pete, and not to worry. I and the other ragtag members of your teaspoon brigade will keep working to change the world one teaspoon at a time. — John W. Whitehead

Click here to read the Seeger interview in its entirety.

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“All governments are run by liars.”—Independent journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone

President Obama has managed, with singular assistance from Congress and the courts, to mangle the Constitution through repeated abuses, attacks and evasions.

This is nothing new, as I’ve documented in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. However, with his recent speech on the National Security Agency—a heady cocktail of lies, obfuscations, contradictions and Orwellian doublespeak—Obama has also managed to pervert and propagandize our nation’s history, starting with Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty, likening their efforts to secure our freedoms to NSA phone surveillance. Frankly, George Orwell’s Winston Smith, rewriting news stories for Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth, couldn’t have done a better job of revising history to suit the party line.

While it didn’t bode well for what was to follow, here’s how Obama opened his speech:

At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the ‘The Sons of Liberty’ was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere. At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots. Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.

Obama’s inference is clear: rather than condemning the NSA for encroaching on our privacy rights, we should be commending them for helping to “secure our country and our freedoms.” Never mind that the Sons of Liberty were actually working against the British government, to undermine what they perceived as a repressive regime guilty of perpetrating a host of abuses against the colonists.

After such a 1984-esque send-up, it doesn’t even really matter what else Obama had to say in his speech about NSA reforms and the like. Rest assured, it was largely a pack of lies. Mind you, Obama said it eloquently enough and interspersed it with all the appropriately glib patriotic remarks about individual freedom and the need to defend the Constitution and securing the life of our nation while preserving our liberties. After all, Obama has proven to be very good at saying one thing and doing another, whether it’s insisting that “you can keep your health care plan,” that he’ll close Guantanamo, or that his administration’s controversial drone strikes only target terrorists and not civilians.

When it comes to the NSA, Obama has been lying to the American people for quite some time now. There was the time he claimed the secret FISA court is “transparent.” Then he insisted that “we don’t have a domestic spying program.” And then, to top it all off, he actually insisted there was no evidence the NSA was “actually abusing” its power. As David Sirota writes for Salon: “it has now become almost silly to insinuate or assume that the president hasn’t also been lying. Why? Because if that’s true — if indeed he hasn’t been deliberately lying — then it means he has been dangerously, irresponsibly and negligently ignorant of not only the government he runs, but also of the news breaking around him.”

Sirota continues:

I, of course, don’t buy that at all. I don’t buy that a constitutional lawyer and legal scholar didn’t know that the FISA court is secret — aka the opposite of “transparent.” I don’t buy that he simply didn’t see any of the news showing that spying is happening in the United States. And I don’t buy that he didn’t know that there is evidence — both public and inside his own administration — of the NSA “actually abusing” its power.

I don’t buy any of that because, to say the least, it makes no sense. I just don’t buy that he’s so unaware of the world around him that he made such statements from a position of pure ignorance. On top of that, he has a motive. Yes, Obama has an obvious political interest in trying to hide as much of his administration’s potentially illegal behavior as possible, which means he has an incentive to calculatedly lie. For all of these reasons, it seems safe to suggest that when it comes to the NSA situation, the president seems to be lying.

So in terms of Obama’s latest speech on the NSA, if you read between the lines—or just ignore the president’s words and pay attention to his actions—it’s clear that nothing is going to change. The NSA will continue to abuse its power by spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails. They will continue to collect metadata on our various communications and activities. And they will continue to carry out their surveillance in secret, with no attempts at transparency or accountability.

The NSA will do so, no matter what Obama claims to the contrary, because this black ops-funded agency whose very existence is abhorrent to the Constitution has become a power unto itself. They no longer work for us or for the president, for that matter. He works for them.

Remember, Obama is the chief executive of a super secretive surveillance state whose overarching purpose is to remain in power by any means available. As such, he and his surveillance state cohorts have far more in common with King George and the British government of his day than with the American colonists who worked hard to foment a rebellion and overthrow a despotic regime.

Indeed, Obama and his speechwriters would do well to brush up on their history. In doing so, they will find that the Sons of Liberty, the “small, secret surveillance committee” they conveniently liken to the NSA, was in fact an underground, revolutionary movement that fought the established government of its day, whose members were considered agitators, traitors and terrorists not unlike Edward Snowden.

In much the same way that the U.S. government under the leadership of Barack Obama is today going after whistleblowers and activists who oppose their tactics, the British government went after the Sons of Liberty. These people were neither career politicians nor government bureaucrats. Instead, they were mechanics, merchants, artisans and the like—ordinary people groaning under the weight of Britain’s oppressive rule—who, having reached a breaking point, had decided that enough was enough. Through the use of Committees of Correspondence, they alerted the colonists to the abuses being meted out by the British crown by way of pamphlets, speeches and resolutions, inciting them to actively resist the acts of oppression, and conspiring with them to revolt.

The colonists’ treatment at the hands of the British was not much different from the abuses meted out to the American people today: they too were taxed on everything from food to labor without any real say in the matter, in addition to which they had their homes invaded, their property seized and searched, their families terrorized, their communications, associations and activities monitored, and their attempts to defend themselves and challenge the government’s abuses dismissed as belligerence, treachery, and sedition.

Unlike most Americans today, who remain ignorant of the government’s abuses, cheerfully distracted by the entertainment spectacles trotted out before them by a complicit media, readily persuaded that the government has their best interests at heart, and easily cowed by the slightest show of force, the colonists responded to the government’s abuses with outrage, activism and rebellion. They staged boycotts of British goods and organized public protests, mass meetings, parades, bonfires and other demonstrations, culminating with their most famous act of resistance, the Boston Tea Party.

On the night of December 16, 1773, a group of men dressed as Indians boarded three ships that were carrying tea. Cheered on by a crowd along the shore, they threw 342 chests of tea overboard in protest of a tax on the tea. Many American merchants were aghast at the wanton destruction of property. A town meeting in Bristol, Massachusetts, condemned the action. Ben Franklin even called on his native city to pay for the tea and apologize. But as historian Pauline Maier notes, the Boston Tea Party was a last resort for a group of people who had stated their peaceful demands but were rebuffed by the British: “The tea resistance constituted a model of justified forceful resistance upon traditional criteria.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet it’s a history we cannot afford to forget or allow to be rewritten. The colonists suffered under the weight of countless tyrannies before they finally were emboldened to stand their ground. They attempted to reason with the British crown, to plea their cause, even to negotiate. It was only when these means proved futile that they resorted to outright resistance, civil disobedience and eventually rebellion.

More than 200 years later, we are once again suffering under a long train of abuses and usurpations. What Americans today must decide is how committed they are to the cause of freedom and how far they’re willing to go to restore what has been lost. Nat Hentoff, one of my dearest friends and a formidable champion of the Constitution, has long advocated for the resurgence of Committees of Correspondence. As Nat noted:

This resistance to arrant tyranny first became part of our heritage when Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty formed the original Committees of Correspondence, a unifying source of news of British tyranny throughout the colonies that became a precipitating cause of the American Revolution. Where are the Sons of Liberty, the Committees of Correspondence and the insistently courageous city councils now, when they are crucially needed to bring back the Bill of Rights that protect every American against government tyranny worse than King George III’s? Where are the citizens demanding that these doorways to liberty be opened … What are we waiting for?

What are we waiting for, indeed? As Thomas Jefferson said, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

“[E]verywhere, “time is winding up,” in the words of one of our spirituals, “corruption in the land, people take a stand, time is winding up.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

We now live in a two-tiered system of governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its corporate allies, and another set for you and me.

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like sending SWAT teams crashing through your door in the middle of the night, rectally probing you during a roadside stop, or listening in on your phone calls and reading all of your email messages, confiscating your property, or indefinitely detaining you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.

Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they shoot unarmed citizens, strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing a small amount of marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free. In other words, we have moved into an age where we are the slaves and they are the rulers.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of government has been a long time coming. As I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have nots has been building for years.

Thus we now find ourselves at a point where, for the first time in history, Congress is dominated by a majority of millionaires who are, on average, 14 times wealthier than the average American. Making matters worse, as the Center for Responsive Politics reports, “at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code,” our so-called representatives are completely out of touch with the daily struggles of most Americans–those who live from paycheck to paycheck and are caught in the exhausting struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis.

Indeed, although America is supposed to be a representative republic, these people– who earn six-figure salaries and inhabit a world exempt from parking tickets, where gym membership is free and health care is second-to-none, where you only have to work two, maybe three days a week and get 32 fully reimbursed road trips home a year, travel to foreign lands, discounts in Capitol Hill tax-free shops and restaurants, free reserved parking at Washington National Airport, free fresh-cut flowers from the Botanic Gardens, and free assistance in the preparation of income taxes–neither represent nor serve the American people. They have instead appointed themselves our masters.

While Congress should be America’s representative body, too many of its members bear little resemblance to those they have been elected to represent. As Dan Eggen reports for The Washington Post: “The new figures underscore a long-standing trend of wealth accumulation in Congress, which is populated overwhelmingly with millionaires and near-millionaires who often own multiple homes and other assets out of reach for most of the voters they represent.”

Many of our politicians live like kings. Chauffeured around in limousines, flying in private jets and eating gourmet meals, all paid for by the American taxpayer, they are far removed from those they are supposed to represent. Such a luxurious lifestyle makes it difficult to identify with the “little guy”–the roofers, plumbers and blue-collar workers who live from paycheck to paycheck and keep the country running with their hard-earned dollars and the sweat of their brows.

The unfortunate but simple fact is that the rich sit perched at the top of the government. As Joseph Stiglitz writes for Vanity Fair:

Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift–through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price–it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

Sadly, electoral politics have been so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is little chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress. Whether it be the Oval Office or the halls of Congress, the road to the ballot box is an expensive one, and only the wealthy, or those supported by the wealthy, are even able to get to the starting line.

Just consider the 2012 presidential election cycle. Both parties spent $1 billion each attempting to get their candidate elected to the presidency. This money came from rich donors and corporate sponsors, intent on getting their candidate in office. Once in office, these already privileged wealthy bureaucrats enter into a life of even greater privilege, unfortunately at the expense of the American taxpayer. It doesn’t even seem to matter whether they’re Democrats or Republicans–they all take full advantage of what one news report described as “a mountain of perks that most Fortune 500 companies couldn’t begin to rival.”

Even President Obama’s closest advisers are millionaires, including those on his 15-member cabinet. It is not unusual for some of them to own vacation homes, such as Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, who owns a “summer home worth more than a million dollars.

And then there are the lobbyists, the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington. With an estimated 26 lobbyists per congressman, it should come as no surprise that once elected, even those with the best of intentions seem to find it hard to resist the lure of lobbyist dollars, of which there are plenty to go around.

This lobbying is in turn buoyed by a congressional lifestyle which demands that our representatives spend the majority of their time fund raising for campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of their constituents. In November 2012, the Democratic House leadership offered a model daily schedule to newly elected Democrats which suggests a ten-hour day, five hours of which are dominated by “call time” and “strategic outreach,” including fund raisers and correspondence with potential donors. Three or four hours are for actually doing the job they were elected to do, such as attending committee meetings, voting on legislation, and interacting with constituents.

When half of one’s time is devoted to asking for money from rich individuals and special interests, there is no way that he can respond to the problems which pervade the country. Even well-meaning Congressmen face a Catch-22 where they are pushed to fundraise to secure their seats, but then once in office, it is basically impossible for them to do their jobs. The full ramifications of this are laid out by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC):

Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership… It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically… You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.

What we are faced with is a government by oligarchy–in other words, one that is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Yet the Constitution’s Preamble states that it is “we the people” who are supposed to be running things. If our so-called “representative government” is to survive, we must first wrest control of our government from the wealthy elite who run it. That is a problem with no easy solutions, and voting is the least of what we should be doing.

“What they don’t want,” noted comedian George Carlin, is “a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests.”

A population of citizens capable of critical thinking? That’s a good place to start, and it’s a sure-fire way to jumpstart a revolution. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Wise men established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity should look up again at the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began.”

Inspiring words, but what do they really mean for those of us laboring under the weight of an overreaching, militarized, corrupt government that grows increasingly so with each passing day?

How can we change this state of affairs? The government is too big, too powerful, and its overlords too entrenched to willingly give up any of its power or wealth. The wisest option is to employ the tactics of past protest movements such as the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1960s anti-war movement, all of which used sleep-ins, sit-ins and marches to oppose government policies, counter injustice and bring about meaningful change.

For example, in May of 1932, more than 43,000 people, dubbed the Bonus Army—World War I veterans and their families—marched on Washington. Out of work, destitute and with families to feed, more than 10,000 veterans set up tent cities in the nation’s capital and refused to leave until the government agreed to pay the bonuses they had been promised as a reward for their services. The Senate voted against paying them immediately, but the protesters didn’t budge. Congress adjourned for the summer, and still the protesters remained encamped. Finally, on July 28, under orders from President Herbert Hoover, the military descended with tanks and cavalry, beating some protesters senseless and setting their makeshift camps on fire. Still, the protesters returned the following year, and eventually their efforts not only succeeded in securing payment of the bonuses but contributed to the passage of the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Similarly, the Civil Rights Movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to strike at the core of an unjust and discriminatory society. Likewise, while the 1960s anti-war movement began with a few thousand perceived radicals, it ended with hundreds of thousands of protesters, spanning all walks of life, demanding the end of American military aggression abroad.

What these movements had was a coherent message, the mass mobilization of a large cross section of American society, what Martin Luther King Jr. called a philosophy of “militant nonviolent resistance” and an eventual convergence on the nation’s seat of power—Washington, DC—the staging ground for the corporate coup, where the shady deals are cut, where lobbyists and politicians meet, and where corporate interests are considered above all else.

It is no coincidence that just prior to his assassination in April 1968, King was plotting “to build a shantytown in Washington, patterned after the bonus marches of the thirties, to dramatize how many people have to live in slums in our nation.”

King’s advice still rings true: “We need to put pressure on Congress to get things done. We will do this with First Amendment activity. If Congress is unresponsive, we’ll have to escalate in order to keep the issue alive and before it. This action may take on disruptive dimensions, but not violent in the sense of destroying life or property: it will be militant nonviolence.”

The balance of power that was once a hallmark of our republic no longer exists. James Madison’s warning that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elected, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” has, regrettably come to pass.

Clearly, it’s time for a mass movement dedicated to change through “militant nonviolence.” If not, the shadow of tyranny that now hangs over us will eventually destroy every last semblance of freedom.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” “It must be demanded by the oppressed.” — John W. Whitehead

“[A security camera] doesn’t respond to complaint, threats, or insults. Instead, it just watches you in a forbidding manner. Today, the surveillance state is so deeply enmeshed in our data devices that we don’t even scream back because technology companies have convinced us that we need to be connected to them to be happy.”—Pratap Chatterjee, journalist

What is most striking about the American police state is not the mega-corporations running amok in the halls of Congress, the militarized police crashing through doors and shooting unarmed citizens, or the invasive surveillance regime which has come to dominate every aspect of our lives. No, what has been most disconcerting about the emergence of the American police state is the extent to which the citizenry appears content to passively wait for someone else to solve our nation’s many problems. Unless Americans are prepared to engage in militant nonviolent resistance in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, true reform, if any, will be a long time coming.

Yet as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police Stateif we don’t act soon, all that is in need of fixing will soon be unfixable, especially as it relates to the police state that becomes more entrenched with each passing day. By “police state,” I am referring to more than a society overrun by the long arm of the police. I am referring to a society in which all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents, one in which all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

That said, how can anyone be expected to “fix” what is broken unless they first understand the lengths to which the government with its arsenal of technology is going in order to accustom the American people to life in a police state and why being spied on by government agents, both state and federal, as well as their partners in the corporate world, is a problem, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Indeed, as the trend towards overcriminalization makes clear, it won’t be long before the average law-abiding American is breaking laws she didn’t even know existed during the course of a routine day. The point, of course, is that while you may be oblivious to your so-called law-breaking—whether it was collecting rainwater to water your lawn, lighting a cigarette in the privacy of your home, or gathering with friends in your backyard for a Sunday evening Bible study—the government will know each and every transgression and use them against you.

As noted by the Brookings Institution, “For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders — every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner.”

As the following will show, the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, is perhaps the most insidious of the police state’s many tentacles, impacting almost every aspect of our lives and making it that much easier for the government to encroach on our most vital freedoms, ranging from free speech, assembly and the press to due process, privacy, and property, by eavesdropping on our communications, tracking our movements and spying on our activities.

Tracking you based on your consumer activities: Fusion centers, federal-state law enforcement partnerships which attempt to aggregate a variety of data on so-called “suspicious persons,” have actually collected reports on people buying pallets of bottled water, photographing government buildings, and applying for a pilot’s license as “suspicious activity.” Retailers are getting in on the surveillance game as well. Large corporations such as Target have been tracking and assessing the behavior of their customers, particularly their purchasing patterns, for years. In 2015, mega-food corporations will be rolling out high-tech shelving outfitted with cameras in order to track the shopping behavior of customers, as well as information like the age and sex of shoppers.

Tracking you based on your public activities: Sensing a booming industry, private corporations are jumping on the surveillance state bandwagon, negotiating lucrative contracts with police agencies throughout the country in order to create a web of surveillance that encompasses all major urban centers. Companies such as NICE and Bright Planet are selling equipment and services to police departments with the promise of monitoring large groups of people seamlessly, as in the case of protests and rallies. They are also engaging in extensive online surveillance, looking for any hints of “large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals.” Defense contractors are attempting to take a bite out of this lucrative market as well. Raytheon has recently developed a software package known as Riot, which promises to predict the future behavior of an individual based upon his social media posts.

Tracking you based on your phone activities: The CIA has been paying AT&T over $10 million per year in order to gain access to data on Americans’ phone calls abroad. This is in addition to telecommunications employees being embedded in government facilities to assist with quick analysis of call records and respond to government requests for customer location data. They receive hundreds of thousands of such requests per year.

Tracking you based on your computer activities: Federal agents now employ a number of hacking methods in order to gain access to your computer activities and “see” whatever you’re seeing on your monitor. Malicious hacking software can be installed via a number of inconspicuous methods, including USB, or via an email attachment or software update. It can then be used to search through files stored on a hard drive, log keystrokes, or take real time screenshots of whatever a person is looking at on their computer, whether personal files, web pages, or email messages. It can also be used to remotely activate cameras and microphones, offering another means of glimpsing into the personal business of a target.

Tracking you based on your behavior: Thanks to a torrent of federal grants, police departments across the country are able to fund outrageous new surveillance systems that turn the most basic human behaviors into suspicious situations to be studied and analyzed. Police in California, Massachusetts, and New York have all received federal funds to create systems like that operated by the New York Police Department, which “links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists.” Police all across the country are also now engaging in big data mining operations, often with the help of private companies, in order to develop city-wide nets of surveillance. For example, police in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, now work with IBM in order to “integrate new data and analytics tools into everyday crime fighting.”

Tracking you based on your face: Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country (only twelve states do not use facial recognition software). For example, in Ohio, 30,000 police officers and court employees are able to access the driver’s license images of people in the state, without any form of oversight to track their views or why they’re accessing them. The FBI is developing a $1 billion program, Next Generation Identification, which involves creating a massive database of mugshots for police all across the country.

Tracking you based on your car: License plate readers, which can identify the owner of any car that comes within its sights, are growing in popularity among police agencies. Affixed to overpasses or cop cars, these devices give police a clear idea of where your car was at a specific date and time, whether the doctor’s office, the bar, the mosque, or at a political rally. State police in Virginia used license plate readers to record every single vehicle that arrived to President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 from Virginia. They also recorded the license plates of attendees at rallies prior to the election, including for then-candidate Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. This data collection came at the request of the U.S. Secret Service. Incredibly, Virginia police stored data on some 8 million license plates, some for up to three years.

Tracking you based on your social media activities: The obsession with social media as a form of surveillance will have some frightening consequences in coming years. As Helen A.S. Popkin, writing for NBC News, has astutely observed, “We may very well face a future where algorithms bust people en masse for referencing illegal ‘Game of Thrones’ downloads, or run sweeps for insurance companies seeking non-smokers confessing to lapsing back into the habit. Instead of that one guy getting busted for a lame joke misinterpreted as a real threat, the new software has the potential to roll, Terminator-style, targeting every social media user with a shameful confession or questionable sense of humor.”

Tracking you based on your metadata: Metadata is an incredibly invasive set of data to have on a person. Indeed, with access to one’s metadata, one can “identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.” The National Security Agency (NSA) has been particularly interested in metadata, compiling information on Americans’ social connections “that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information.” Mainway, the main NSA tool used to connect the dots on American social connections, collected 700 million phone records per day in 2011. That number increased by 1.1 billion in August 2011. The NSA is now working on creating “a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion ‘record events’ daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.”

Tracking you from the skies: Nothing, and I mean nothing, will escape government eyes, especially when drones take to the skies in 2015. These gadgets, ranging from the colossal to the miniature, will have the capability of seeing through the walls of your home and tracking your every movement.

To put it bluntly, we are living in an electronic concentration camp. Through a series of imperceptible steps, we have willingly allowed ourselves to become enmeshed in a system that knows the most intimate details of our lives, analyzes them, and treats us accordingly. Whether via fear of terrorism, narcissistic pleasure, or lazy materialism, we have slowly handed over our information to all sorts of entities, corporate and governmental, public and private, who are now using that information to cow and control us for their profit. As George Orwell warned, “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

Thus, we have arrived in Orwell’s world. The question now is: will we take a stand and fight to remain free or will we go gently into the concentration camp? — John W. Whitehead