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Power to the People: John Lennon's Legacy Lives On

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John Lennon New York City
John Lennon New York City
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"You gotta remember, establishment, it's just a name for evil. The monster doesn't care whether it kills all the students or whether there's a revolution. It's not thinking logically, it's out of control."--John Lennon (1969)

Militant nonviolent resistance works.

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Peaceful, prolonged protests work.

Mass movements with huge numbers of participants work.

Yes, America, it is possible to use occupations and civil disobedience to oppose government policies, counter injustice and bring about change outside the confines of the ballot box.

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It has been done before. It is being done now. It can be done again.

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, 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. 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.

Most recently, after months of protests over the construction of a pipeline that members of the Sioux tribe insisted would harm their water supply, the Army Corp of Engineers has agreed to look for an alternate route for the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

This kind of "power to the people" activism--grassroots, populist and potent--is exactly the brand of civic engagement John Lennon advocated throughout his career as a musician and anti-war activist.

It's been 36 years since Lennon was gunned down by an assassin's bullet on December 8, 1980, but his legacy and the lessons he imparted in his music and his activism have not diminished over the years.

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All of the many complaints we have about government today--surveillance, militarism, corruption, harassment, SWAT team raids, political persecution, spying, overcriminalization, etc.--were present in Lennon's day and formed the basis of his call for social justice, peace and a populist revolution.

Little wonder, then, that the U.S. government saw him as enemy number one.

Because he never refrained from speaking truth to power, Lennon became a prime example of the lengths to which the U.S. government will go to persecute those who dare to challenge its authority.

Lennon was the subject of a four-year campaign of surveillance and harassment by the U.S. government (spearheaded by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), an attempt by President Richard Nixon to have him "neutralized" and deported. As Adam Cohen of the New York Times points out, "The F.B.I.'s surveillance of Lennon is a reminder of how easily domestic spying can become unmoored from any legitimate law enforcement purpose. What is more surprising, and ultimately more unsettling, is the degree to which the surveillance turns out to have been intertwined with electoral politics."

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John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more...)
 

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