NSA surveillance of the entire population reflects Pentagon concerns that the type of uprisings occurring in Brazil, Turkey, and recently in Egypt will come to the United States. Planning documents released by the military since 2006 reveal growing fears about unrest generated by environmental or economic disaster.
If the Pentagon is preparing for a turbulent future, then DSA should be thinking ahead to the next period of mass protest.
The Pentagon is warning that there is a good possibility of political unrest in the U.S. Since 2006, the military has produced a series of studies predicting that weather shocks generated by climate change, shortages of energy because of peak oil price increases, or general discontent over economic hard times could lead to civil unrest. For example, the Pentagon ran war games in 2010 to explore the implications of a “large scale economic breakdown” in the U.S. disrupting food supplies and other essential services. Participants were exploring how to preserve “domestic order amid civil unrest.”
We need look no further than Brazil or Turkey or Egypt to see what the Pentagon and its spy agency, NSA, might fear. In these countries, smoldering discontent over the political system being unresponsive to the needs of the general public combined with faltering economic growth to generate weeks of massive street demonstrations. In Greece, and to a lesser extent in Spain, austerity measures imposed by financial institutions triggered recurring street protests. The generals also understand, from watching these movements and tracking the genesis of the Occupy Movement, that these things happen very fast.
It is not implausible that concerns about political disorder are an element in the cluster of reasons for developing a robust surveillance operation. An operation capable, with the flip of a few definitional switches, of launching massive and detailed spying expeditions against American citizens with no prior history of political disobedience.
While we can and will speak out against NSA surveillance and against Pentagon planning for troop deployments in the United States, I would argue that we should also be thinking about the nature and meaning of the next round of citizen unrest. If Pentagon planners and analysts raise the specter of unhappy citizens expressing their anger and alienation in the streets, then we owe it to ourselves and the future to put a little thought into how we should prepare for those types of events.
What we do know
We know that, in the event of large scale political disorder, DSA and its membership will not jump into the fray with destructive fantasies about armed revolution. DSA is built upon a realization that non-violent political change is the only way to create a better society.
We also know from the lessons of Occupy that DSA and its membership will be able to provide grassroots leaders and active participants with thoughtful information about the nature of our economy and our political system, and an appreciation for the contributions of millions of working people of every ethnic, racial, and gender group to our collective history.
What we still need to find out
There is one thing we really don’t know yet, something we really should be able to tell people who want the world to change: how they can increase their political power in ways that perpetuate momentum for political change after the streets cool off.
In many countries, including Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Spain, England, and the United States the political establishment, that is, the mainstream, left-of-center and right-of-center political parties, have responded to The Great Recession with policies explicitly favoring economic elites and imposing losses on the general population.
As a result, political protestors in all of these countries have rejected party politics and presented themselves as speaking for the general population or the 99%. While this is a welcome inclusiveness, all of these movements have had difficulty answering the question – where do we go from here, how does this positive political energy get channeled or institutionalized into greater democratic decision-making?
I will be writing a post next week exploring this issue. Until then, I invite DSA members to send in comments about steps that should be taken along the road to grassroots political power.
Monte Pearson is a DSA member who also blogs at PerilsofEmpire.com