Monday, November 14, 2011

Tyranny in a Small Town (or Mrs. Adams Goes to City Hall)

Our city has a curfew ordinance.
And what the Patriot Act is to our nation,
curfews are to our small towns.

When I first heard of it, the word "tyranny" niggled at the back of my brain. But I must confess that since it was just a little bit of tyranny, I was just a little bit bothered by it.

But all that changed last week. It was one of those mornings where the time just got away from me, so I asked my daughter to just give me the one mile lap and come back in--instead of running with me as is our usual morning habit. She's not typically a demonstrative person. Her idea of communication is drawing or playing the piano. So I was a little taken aback when she refused.

"Why?" I asked her.
"I'm afraid," she said.
"Of what?" I pressed.
"Of the curfew law," she answered.
"You're afraid a policeman is going to pull you over, aren't you?" I asked.
She nodded.

It was a turning point for me.
I was no longer apathetic; I was angry.
Suddenly, this little bit of tyranny was much bigger than I had originally thought!
And suddenly, the meeting for concerned citizens to discuss the curfew law with a couple city councilmen, the city attorney, and a representative of law enforcement (that was arranged by my friend and tireless behind-the-scenes political volunteer, Nita) became vitally important.

When I showed up, I was surprised but relieved to see about ten other adults in attendance, all there, like me, to protest the curfew ordinance.
But when the attorney started shuffling papers and explaining how the city "had only made minor changes to the ordinance," along with some hooey about this being a constitutional duty under police powers, I stood up.

"I just have some things to say first." And so I did. And it went something like this:

First, we don't care about the minor changes. We aren't here in this room to protest some minor changes. We are here to get the ordinance abolished. And I am not here as a 'homeschooler' or a 'concerned parent.' I am here because I am an American. This limit on my right to move about freely is unconstitutional (and, Counsel, I'll come back to you in a minute).
I told them about my daughter's fears and how my apathy has changed to anger. And I pointed at the policeman.

Gentlemen, I am no longer apathetic; I am angry.
There's no reason for my daughter, a law-abiding citizen, to be afraid of you.
There's no reason for my daughter to fear unwarranted search and seizures by you.

We are not an oligarchy ruled by a few.
We are not a democracy ruled by all.
We are not even an anarchy ruled by none.
We are a republic. We are ruled by law.
What's more, we are a constitutional republic. And our constitution recognizes natural law which recognizes the inherent rights of every human being to life, liberty, and property. Any law which infringes on those rights is bad law. It must be abolished. Curfew ordinances infringe on my right as a free citizen to move about at will.

And, Counsel, don't tell me that the Supreme Court ruled that curfews are constitutional.
The Supreme Court infringed on life when they upheld Roe vs. Wade.
The Supreme Court infringed on liberty when they upheld Dred Scott.
They infringed on property when they ruled on Kelo vs. New London.
The founders knew that the Supreme Court was as capable of tyranny as the other two branches of government, and those rulings proved the founders correct. The Supreme Court is no longer a reliable litmus test regarding the constitutionality of a law. So, no, Counsel, don't tell me about how this law is constitutional. It is not.

I'm told that (our chief of police) asked for this ordinance because it helps him keep vandalism down. But when he asks me to 'play nice' and 'do my duty as a citizen' and 'relinquish some of my individual liberty' for the 'good of the city,' there is one word for that. It is fascism. And that is a slippery slope none of us wants to be on. What's next, "Papers, please?" Where are we?! Cedar Park or Berlin?! You want to cut down on vandalism? Then prosecute vandals! But do NOT penalize law-abiding citizens.

When the attorney explained curfews were in place for the protection of my children (Huh, that's funny. I thought the police chief wanted it in place to reduce juvenile crime and vandalism), I had something to say about that, too.

"No thank you. I'll protect my children. You are stepping on my jurisdiction. I don't want or need you to protect my children! And just listen to yourself. Listen to the language you use. "When an alleged offender is approached by an officer..."

My child is NOT an alleged offender! That would mean she is guilty until proven innocent. This is America! And you've got it backwards!

The meeting continued for another hour and a half. And I learned a few things that day.
I learned that city officials are people, too. The councilmen were polite and listened to me. One of them even leaned over and said quietly to Nita, "Sounds like we may need to abolish this at the state level as well."

I could have hugged him.

I learned that there is no such thing as 'a little bit of tyranny.' A little bit is too much. And here at the municipal level is where tyranny takes place in its subtlest forms. If we turn a blind eye to it, or shrug at it, then we'll cook like a frog in a pot.

I learned that people involved at the municipal level

( Nita, who has worked at this as long as I have known her and is now the vice-chair of her party in our county Don S, who has served as city councilman, precinct chair, and election judge)

work very, very hard to develop relationships with our legislators. And like any relationship, these take time. There are people giving their time down here in the trenches who move and shake and protect and fight for our freedom...and we don't even know it.

I learned that we can't expect these people to bear the whole burden and do the whole work. Our local legislators need to hear from many of us. They need to know we are watching. And voting.

Most importantly, I learned that we need to talk to our officials about the Constitution often. Remind them how the three branches of government work. Remind them of the proper jurisdictions of government, church, and family. Remind them that it's their job to protect those jurisdictions from each other and to defend the Constitution--right here in River City. Sadly, many of them honestly don't know. And this was where I got the most traction with one of the councilmen.

Long before tyranny ever gets to Pennsylvania Avenue,
it is slinking around outside your city hall.
Keep your eyes and ears open.
Stopping it here is a whole lot easier than stopping it there.