Contemplating the Revolutionary Option

By Becky O’Malley
Thursday July 03, 2008 - 10:04:00 AM

The approach of July 4 always moves me to ruminations on the nature and function of government. Reading the Declaration of Independence is a feature of the best holiday picnics—so much easier these days when printable copies can easily be retrieved from the Web. As always, when I download the DofA and actually read it, I’m struck by what a radical document it is, and by the annoying and alarming parallels between the bad behavior of the 18th century Brits and that of the various governments we have to contend with these days.  

Some cases in point: 

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. 

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.”  

Sound like anyone you know? Our current king—I mean president—and his exercise of the veto power, perhaps?  

Or this: 

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. 

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”  

Just check out Sy Hersh’s current New Yorker piece about GWB’s plans to invade Iran, being hatched by an “independent” military without any pretense at congressional oversight. 


“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.” 

Blackhawk, anyone? 

And there’s more: 

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…”  

Is this the enabling language for today’s version of the INS?. 

The bottom line: 

“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” 

But we knew that, didn’t we? 

We’re now in the midst of a presidential campaign which we earnestly hope will result in said tyrant departing the scene on his own accord. But if we believe Hersh, there’s a very real danger that Bush or his evil regent, Richard Cheney (or is the other way round?) will take some precipitate and illegal action, enabled by a free-booting military, to invade Iran. It could happen, in Hersh’s view, either as an October surprise before the election which might change the results, or between the election and the inauguration of the new president. Either way, deeply scary.  

So what do we do about it? Chances are we will not seize the reins of government, because, as our political ancestors said “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”  

We haven’t yet reached the tipping point, even though a number of the parallels are alarming. We’ll wait for the election, suffering the sufferable evils, but those of us who have read the Hersh piece will be holding our breath as we suffer. 

So much for the really serious stuff. But what about the more minor transgressions of governmental agencies against the consent of the governed?  

The news of the week around here is that the local constitutional arm of the state of California which quarters bodies of troops amongst us is up to new tricks. I refer, of course, to the University of California, which is trying as hard as it can to build new quarters for its mercenaries (they don’t call them “Fight Songs” for nothing) in our midst. 

Having spent many thousands of dollars in legal and consulting fees to float a plan for reinforcing Memorial Stadium while the adjacent new building is under construction, the university administration now declares that this was all a sham, that they don’t need to shore up the old building while they’re digging the hill out from under it. Oh really? Then what was all the fuss about in the first place? 

Cynics might suggest that this is a transparent ploy to evade the intent of the Alquist-Priolo act, intended to keep anyone, even the mighty U, from creating new hazards for the unsuspecting on top of known earthquake faults. They’d be right. 

The University of California was given independent status in the state constitution in order to preserve the academic freedom of its faculty and students. Contrary to what some of our correspondents seem to believe, this is a granted privilege, not natural law. State universities in many other states do not claim exemption from local zoning or from building restrictions like Alquist-Priolo.  

It’s somewhat misleading to consider the University of California a state institution any more. It’s been effectively privatized.  

Students, even in-state students, now pay almost as much as their peers at many private institutions. Most of the non-tuition support for UC now comes from corporations and affluent private donors, not from the state.  

All of the cities which play host to UC campuses are suffering from the high-handed way the university invades local space. UC Berkeley’s demand that the city of Berkeley re-write its downtown zoning plan to accommodate the university’s growth program is not unique.  

UC has done similar things in Santa Cruz and Merced and Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, to name a few. Santa Cruz has its own lawsuit, and even its own contingent of treesitters. But there’s precious little any locals can do about the university juggernaut.  

Lately we’ve been hearing suggestions from friends in other UC cities that it’s time for an initiative to abolish the university’s special privileged constitutional status. In their view, it’s the only way to control the university’s insatiable appetite for expansion. They say that the greedy institution as it currently exists no longer deserves to be considered an independent arm of government. 

There’s noble precedent for this kind of conclusion. After all, we’ve been taught that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive …. it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Should we start circulating the initiative petitions on the Fourth of July?