“Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
The will to power is strong. Power means we can control our environment and controlling our environment means security. There is also a certain satisfaction, a not-terribly-nice sense of accomplishment, when we can get others to do as we want. This will exists in us all, but it is stronger in some than in others. You can find them in overbearing family members, draconian bosses, and in petty little local elected officials that treat their districts like their own fiefdoms.
This last group is particularly vexing to me in general and especially when it comes to my work. It is not terribly common, though not exactly rare either, for we canvassers to be stopped by cops as we are doing our work. We are asked if we have permits and if we do not we are told to leave. Many towns have ordinances requiring canvassers to have permits, the problem is, it is against the law for them to require them of not for profit organizations.
I don’t blame the cops for enforcing these laws. I have yet to have a really negative experience, and one time, as soon as I explained that I have the right to be out there, the cop conceded. The problem is not the police enforcing an illegal law, they don’t know every state code, especially when it is not a criminal code. The problem is mayors and town board members thinking they are above state law.
They get away with this because there is no enforcement mechanism. The only recourse is to take the towns to court, which I know one organization has in regards to one particularly aggressive town. This gets expensive though. It is treated as a civil issue and I am not sure it should be.
These elected officials are flouting the law. They are denying our first amendment right to free speech and our supporters right to hear who they would. The state is clear on this. Yet these guys either put these ordinances into their town codes or allow them to remain. In doing so they are not just making the life of canvassers harder, they are wasting their taxpayers’ money when organizations finally have enough and fight for their rights. We need a better way to hold these men and women accountable.
Which is why I think this should not be a matter of civil law, but of criminal law. I am not saying lock these people up and throw away the key, but I do think a year in jail would be sobering for these petty, would-be tyrants. At the very least severe fines should be levied against them.
I have mentioned this before, but it bares repeating: laws do not exist to protect the powerful. The powerful need no protection. Laws exist to protect from the powerful so the powerless have a chance to live their lives in peace. The less we enforce these laws, the more likely the strong are going to inflict their will to power on the weak, and the less peace the weak will know. We need to do a better job standing up for ourselves and our neighbors against these people, whether they are town officials creating illegal town codes or CEO’s destroying the health of our economy for short-term gain. We get the world we deserve, and if we don’t have the courage to stand up to the powerful, we don’t deserve much of a world.