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Coleen Rowley's Top Ten Ways to Be a Good Citizen, Instead of Just Voting

By Coleen Rowley

Audio from this week's Talk Nation Radio:

In the course of his recent talk on human rights after 9-11, David Cole, a Georgetown Law Professor and constitutional law expert, speaking about human rights and civil liberties after 9-11 with former Vice President Walter Mondale and Lawrence Jacobs at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minneapolis, opined that all three branches of US government have failed in major ways to correct recent abuses and that the main hope for our country now resides in actions by American civil society. 

That inspired me to compile the following top ten list of what citizens can and should do instead of just sitting on our hands hoping for change, distracted by the naïve belief that voting is the only thing citizens need to do, that voting for politicians will end the wars or solve the country's serious problems.

1. Write op-eds and letters to the editor.

Many good activist writers have ceased trying to get their writings published in mainstream press. But you can increase your chances of being published by following some vital tips (peg your letter or op-ed to an existing news article and stay within the word limit) as well as working in small writing groups that include editor-types who can proofread other’s work.

It’s best to try first to get your piece published in mainstream or sites with an opposing bias instead of preaching to the choir but if that doesn’t work, your time is not wasted as you can still usually publish your writing on an online alternative news/opinion site. 

Undermine the emotional buttons (fear, hate, greed, false pride, blind loyalty) type propaganda used to effectively manipulate the masses by pushing their opposites: courage, love, generosity, humility and critical thinking.

2. Paint a sign or make a t-shirt, grab a friend and get in the street, outside key locations and/or newsworthy events.  Showing up and visibility count for a lot!  Contact your Congressperson and Senators as often as possible; personal visits are worth more than telephone calls.

(When we tried showing up in October 2007, our banner ended up the next day on the front page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper!   We were able to help reverse a bad decision:  Coleen Rowley: Banning Desmond Tutu is NOT Minnesota Nice. It's ..  and Tutu Decision Reversed -- University Mission ... Of course this inspired us to make hundreds of other banners to display during weekly peace vigils at busy intersections.  For a time we even covered pedestrian footbridges with colorful anti-war banners.

3.  There is a remarkable “Freeway Bloggerwho singlehandedly made and put up thousands and thousands of important messages during these last years in key spots seen by millions of California drivers.  So one person can do a lot!  But if you’re not quite that outgoing or creative on your own, you can still step out of the silent majority and its bystanderism by joining a group.

Consider joining a non-partisan group like "Come Home America" that transcends partisanship by combining varying political ideologies, i.e. conservatives, libertarians, progressives, and greens who don’t agree on everything but are in substantial agreement (just as the “anti-Imperialists” counted members as diverse as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie) in opposition to runaway militarism.

Some of the “Freeway Blogger’s” recent messages:



For samples of Minnesota “freeway blogging”, see: We'd banner a warning and “Imagine! Making Signs of Peace

4. Resurrect the League of Women Voters and their true democracy building strategy of debating the real issues instead of voting based on someone’s $400 haircut geared to looking good in a TV ad. Organizing real debates with two opposing views potentially draws larger and more diverse audiences and can potentially change minds which is a big advantage over the typical church basement panel preaching to the choir.

The best real debate that I’ve seen in recent months is: National Security and Civil Liberties - Luncheon Debate (at SMU between torture-legalizer John Yoo and former Amnesty Int’l President Chip Pitts.  Guess who won the debate?) 

5. As we all know, art shows, theatre, comedy-satire and music all make the medicine (harsh reality) go down a lot easier. 

Photo below is from our “Canvassing Against Torture” art show held during “June is Torture Awareness Month” last year.


6. Connect the dots!  Explain to Occupy Youth how the costs of war and Empire's accompanying corruption are to blame for much of the current domestic miseries (foreclosures, lack of affordable health care, student debt, lack of jobs, price of gas, cuts to social safety net, environmental and climate change degradation etc.) Both parties’ politicians try to sell a "have your cake and eat it too" American dream whereby war costs and the Empire's rot from within are ignored. When people don't understand the "sorrows of empire" and the fact that there IS a big trade-off, there is little incentive to reign in military spending.

What would you do with $37 billion for Minnesota? (by the Minnesota ASAP project)

7.  Paint your clothes and shoes and ditch the high fashion.  Wear these messages to the grocery store, kids' sporting events, biking etc.

For example, when I do my triathlons, I always multi-task with this t-shirt logo:

First we painted them, then we threw them, then we mailed them. And now we wear them, even out in public to the grocery store!  Send your Peace Shoes to the President!

   I'm in the peace t-shirt business now!  

8.  Quickly click 5000 new Facebook "friends" and start "sharing" everything you’re doing.  Maybe they’ll take the cue.

9.  Carve a pumpkin, fly a kite or make papier mache for peace!    

Carved by Bill Habedank for his annual Red Wing Pumpkin Show

(Peace Kites by Roger Cuthbertson)

Join the Avatars for Peace!  Say No to Empire!  

10.  Make a FOIA request.  File a lawsuit, like Chris Hedges, Naomi Wolf and Daniel Ellsberg have done to get the National Defense Authorization Act and its provision allowing military arrest and due-process free detention of American citizens held unconstitutional.  FOIA requests and FOIA lawsuits can and are often prosecuted by ordinary requesters “pro se” without need of expensive lawyers.  Nearly everything the public has learned of the terrible civil liberties abuses in recent years of “Top Secret America” has come from the FOIA process.

  Chris Hedges: Why I'm Suing Barack Obama - Chris Hedges..

So these are my top ten but I just thought of an 11th!  Send the list off to Letterman and see if he can do better!  


Coleen Rowley was Chief Division Counsel in the FBI's Minneapolis office who exposed pre-911 failings and testified to Congress.  Her memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller in connection with the Joint Intelligence Committee's Inquiry led to a two year long Department of Justice Inspector General investigation. Rowley was one of three whistleblowers chosen as persons of the year by TIME magazine.  In April 2003, following an unsuccessful attempt to warn the Director and other administration officials about the dangers of launching the invasion of Iraq, Rowley stepped down from her legal position to go back to being a Special Agent. She retired from the FBI at the end of 2004 and now speaks, writes, and takes action for peace.


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The issue is IDEOLOGY, social power vs class/totalitarian power.   Voting for class parties, class politicians is a vote for betrayal, corruption, class degeneration into totaliarianism, corporate fascism and POLICE/MILITARY FASCISM.  Just look at how the Western world, Nato fascist thugs, POLICE NAZIS OPERATE:

Attorney: "NATO 3" Activists Detained on Terror Charges in Chicago Are Victims of Police Entrapment (Video)


"AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the car that was stopped on Wednesday night with the group of people that were let go then? They actually then posted the video and the audio of their arrests online, and then their house was raided, and they ultimately were charged with terror-related offenses.

SARAH GELSOMINO: Right. These three individuals who are facing these charges were stopped the previous week by the Chicago Police Department without—again, without any justification whatsoever, a legal justification, for that stop. They were pulled over by the Chicago Police Department, surrounded by numerous police cars and multiple police officers, and were interrogated for hours about all kinds of things.

And I met with them, actually, after that video was released on the internet, and they said to us that as soon as they identified themselves as being associated with the Occupy movement—they came up from Occupy in Florida to join with Occupy here in Chicago to protest NATO this week. They said as soon as the police learned that information, they became extremely harassing and threatening. And as you may have heard in that YouTube video, the police did in fact threaten those three—those people in that car, talked about in 19—

AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds?

SARAH GELSOMINO: Well, they talked about smashing skulls in 1968, and then they said, "We’ll be out there this weekend, and we’ll be coming to look for you."

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about—

SARAH GELSOMINO: It’s interesting that those are the individuals who are now facing these charges....

SARAH GELSOMINO: You know, regardless of the training that the Chicago Police Department had—and I don’t doubt they’ve received training—what we saw happen on the streets of Chicago after the main permitted protest here on Sunday night was atrocious and absolutely unconscionable behavior by the police department....  the police ended up that night unleashing absolutely uncontrolled, indiscriminate violence against the individuals at the front of that march, with billy—wielding billy clubs that caused—we know of at least 70 very serious injuries, and we anticipate hearing about many, many more as the days go forward...."


Voting for class parties with their Gestapo police and expecting social justice, social outcomes is absolute lunacy and ignorance.   The fascist police can threaten you, frame you up and the class elites endorse this criminality, Fascism.    Voting for social parties, green parties whose social agenda is dismantling, throwing out all class politicians out of power, thereby dissolving all class hierarchies, would see a global social revolution that ends class history,  WAR AND FASCISM

Colleen has more integrity, courage, perseverance & heart than most of the people I have met in my life and I would be correct in saying she is an inspiration and mentor but I would rather just say she is a friend. This is what a true patriot looks like and we are very fortunate she is on our side in this struggle.  Michael Perkins

Someone sent me these good addenda to being a good citizen and said that "with respect, I would label Ms. Rowley's list "How to be a better (small d) democrat". 
1.  use human powered transportation - walk, run, bike
2.  use public transportation
3.  vote with your pocket book
    a)  know what you're buying and who you're buying it from
    b)  buy fair trade goods
    c)  buy quality instead of quantity
    d)  buy organic
    e)  buy sustainable
4.  Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
5.  Stay healthy
6.  Be friendly
     a) listen
     b) don't label people, it kills the discussion and probably means you're not thinking about the solution but just want to win the debate
7.  Understand the disease, not just the symptoms
     a) Most decisions affect far more than just the topic at hand so try to consider how other issues are affected by decisions now being made
     b) There is almost always a trade-off made with every decision.  Explore the trades.
8. Listen to more music
9. Vote with an informed opinion
    a)  understand the issues and the contestants
    b)  understand the incumbent voting records
    c)  read the news then question the news
10. Say Thanks more often.
    a) It helps promote the civility that is necessary for us to open our minds, and to get our message across.
    b) It acknowledges what others do for us and vice-versa.

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