The Courage to Dissent

Rosemarie Jackowski is an activist and an advocacy journalist on social justice matters. On 20 March 2003, at the outset of the United States invasion of Iraq, Jackowski’s conscience led her to demonstrate in Bennington, Vermont against the crimes of the US. The then 66-year old Jackowski was arrested with 11 others and charged with disorderly conduct. Of the Bennington 12, Jackoski alone pled not guilty and went to trial. Much of Jackowski’s experiences can be read about in her book, Banned in Vermont. I interviewed Rosemarie by email about her book.


Banned in Vermont
By Rosemarie Jackowski
Publisher: Shire Press
Manchester, VT (2010)
Paperback, 251 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60571-100-3


Kim Petersen: The title Banned in Vermont refers to antiwar protest being banned in the state?

Rosemarie Jackowski: That and more. I really am talking about the whole issue of freedom of access to information. The problem is that when something is banned — people don’t know that it exists. When a candidate for elected office is banned from debates and forums the voters are unaware of it. This happens during every election in Vermont. Candidates are arrested if they try to participate — unless they are members of the Democratic or Republican Party. Ironically, when copies of BANNED IN VERMONT were donated to the public library, the library banned the book. In my view, that makes it more worthy of being read.

KP: Patriotism. You make a distinction between blind patriotism and informed patriotism. Yet even if people were informed about the great crimes committed by their government, wouldn’t that negate any patriotic sentiment? How can a person love a country that exists because of a genocidal past? I submit that people have to get past loving a geopolitical entity and love people wherever in the world they may live.

RJ: I agree with your thought behind this question. Maybe one can’t love a country with a genocidal past… but in that case, the highest form of patriotism might be in working toward reparations for those who have been victims. An immoral or unjust act cannot be forgiven until amends are made. This is important for the victims but also for the victimizers. I like your point about getting past loving a geopolitical entity and loving ALL people. I often make that point in the book when I say that no one should be given any privilege because of the location of his mother at the time of his birth.

KP: “Any candidate who participates in a forum, which excludes others on the ballot, shows contempt for voters and the democratic process.” What you write is sound insofar as respect for the democratic process; however, for there to be a democratic process, there should be a democracy. Do you consider the United States a democracy?

RJ: No, the United States was never a Democracy. That word gets thrown around a lot. I do believe that there could be a ‘democratic’ process. It would be very hard to achieve, and there would be the issue of the influence of group-think and the pecking order in any attempt at getting to a democratic process.

KP: You consider the topic of justice often and deeply in your book. Have you ever considered that capitalist society has utter contempt for justice, that justice is just a slogan to be wielded for the ends of those who hold power?

RJ: I love this question. I don’t know if there can ever be any justice in a capitalistic society. But, the concept of justice is very important to me… maybe more important than anything else because it encompasses everything. Justice for everyone is even more important than love for all of our fellow beings. Love is an emotion that may or may not result in humanitarian acts. Working for justice for all is a very concrete concept. Working toward justice for all is the ultimate moral dedication of anyone’s life… an important matter of conscience. That is why the back cover of the book states: “Where there is no Justice, nothing else matters. War is the ultimate injustice, because it imposes Capital Punishment on those who have not been Tried or Convicted. Therefore, every Officer of the Court should be openly and actively opposed to war.” There will never be a completely just society, but we surely can do better than what we have now.

KP: What do you mean by your “profound respect for the rule of law”?

RJ: I have respect for some Libertarian and also some Anarchist philosophy. Because people are aware of that, it seemed important to state that I do have “profound respect for the rule of law”. Boundaries on human conduct are necessary because without them we would have rule by ‘the pecking order’. The rich and powerful would have no limits. That is sort of what we now have because the ‘system’ is used as a tool of those in the upper economic class. I have a lot of respect for the rule of law and almost no respect for the legal system as it is. If we had a just legal system, everything would be different. War criminals would be prosecuted. The economic system would be fair – because if it wasn’t, there would be legal recourse.

KP: The reason I asked that question is because law is usually written by those who hold power, not by the unempowered. Therefore, laws can be written to protect the interests of the powerful against the unempowered.

RJ: I see your point. To me the Rule of Law implies Justice — not always the law as it is written. An unjust law would be trumped by the concept of fairness and what is just. Nullification is required when the law is unjust, unethical, or in violation of human rights.

KP: You often mention 1492, yet you wrote, “our government will not regain its legal and moral authority until it gives up its life of international Crime…” Do you believe that the government of the United States ever had legal and moral authority? Given that the country is situated on land gained by the murder and dispossession of its Original Peoples, it seems the only moral and legal action would be to pay reparations and return whatever has been stolen to its rightful owners.

RJ: The legal part is a hazy area. Laws change. Laws are written by whoever happens to be in power at the time. Slavery was legal. Original Peoples have a moral right to reparations. This creates a conundrum. How far back should we go historically? Actually, this is an issue that I think about often because of the suffering of the Palestinians, the Chagossians, and many others. Maybe there is a somewhat fair way to look at this… a formula… mathematically decreasing the reparations over long periods of time. That would mean that land confiscated 50 years ago would deserve greater compensation than land confiscated many, many centuries ago. The bottom line is that it is impossible to undo an immoral or unjust act.

KP: A few things struck me from your answer. First, with all due respect, I submit the bottom line is that morals and human decency demand people of conscience to, as far as possible, atone for the immoral acts of forebears that the descendants are benefitting from now. Living on, and from, that dispossessed from others would seem to fit that bill. Furthermore, there is no statute of limitations for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide under international law. So if how to atone is based in “profound respect for the rule of law” (and I have little respect for laws created by plutocrats, national or international) then surely justice should be carried out according to the law. Second, your formulation posits the longer a people have suffered dispossessions, the lower the reparations would be. Is that not a formula that encourages the dispossessors to draw out the dispossession as long as possible and profit to the maximum before international justice, if it does at all, enforces its tardy laws? Third, and this overlaps somewhat, but your question “How far back should we go historically?” is dangerous because it might encourage the creation of long-term facts on the ground, something Israel is often accused of (and it seems to be a successful strategy for Zionists because few people talk about the legally [which does not imply morally] recognized 1948 borders anymore but refer to the 1967 borders gained through aggression (which is, I submit, a sop to the “supreme international crime”).

RJ: I agree with what you say. My thought was that, for example, justice would require us to place some value on the fact that the land that the USA now occupies was owned by others in 1492. Simply returning all of the land now to the previous owners would punish those who had no responsibility for the original crime. After many generations have passed, that fact has to be considered relevant. On the other hand, the descendants of slaves are closer in generation and still suffering some of the harm of slavery, while others are enjoying some of the benefit. Therefore reparations for slavery would be higher up on the scale. You mention the Zionists and the 1948/1967 borders. What would you say to those who say Israel has the right to land there because they had been there thousands of years ago? Maybe a claim that goes back thousands of years is diluted by time???? How would you answer those who suggest that the nation of Israel should have been located in Europe? Holocaust survivors deserve compensation, but why from the Palestinians? Why not from the Europeans? This topic always reenforces my belief that all religions should be respected. This is currently not a popular view. Many of my friends are absolutely opposed to all religions. They are Evangelical Atheists. I understand their view, but do not agree with it. My view is that actions should be judged, not religious systems. Borders changed through aggression should not be recognized by the international community.

KP: With all due respect, your sentence that vegans “have reached a higher moral plane than the rest of us” sounds hyperbolic to me. For example, what should humans living in Arctic regions subsist on to reach the higher plane?

RJ: You got me with this one. I do believe that vegans have reached a higher moral plane, but I also believe that respect for human life takes precedence for those who have no access to other food. I have had discussions about the morality or immorality of using antibacterial soap, or taking antibiotic medicine. Great topic for philosophical debate, but I come down on the side of human life when forced to choose whether or not to protect the life of a microbe.

KP: You wrote, “The main challenge to 9/11 conspiracy theorists comes from Osama Bin Laden. He explained why the attack occurred.” I do not understand the logic presented since you later call into question the government’s story. Also, how does someone’s view on the reason underlying an attack connect to how the attack was carried out? Why do you label those who question the government’s version of what happened on 9-11 as “conspiracy theorists”?

RJ: I do not believe that the government directly planned and caused 9/11. I refer to 9/11 as ‘the goose that laid the golden grenade’ because the US used it as an excuse for unending war. The government has a long history of lying and is not above sacrificing US citizens. It just seems to me that Blowback is the more likely cause. I am often confronted on this issue by those who disagree with me. Actually, on this issue I am sort of agnostic. The more important question is: “Would it make any difference if someone came forward with absolute proof that 9/11 was a government act?” Probably not — it is on the public record that the USA has killed 500,000 Iraqi children, that 45,000 US citizens die every year from lack of access to health care, that WikiLeaks has exposed government secret plots… on and on. I am convinced that most citizen/voters have very little interest in what the government does and hardly notice. If someone came forward with absolute proof of a government connection to 9/11, it would make the headlines for a day or two and then public interest would be refocused on the latest football scores or which celebrity is sleeping with someone else’s spouse.

KP: I wished you had asked John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, in your interview why it took so long for him to figure out he was a gangster for capitalists. It seems he knew a long time before he gave up the perks he received from his part in the gangsterism.

RJ: That would have been a good question. In a way, maybe many of us share that with Perkins. Living under Capitalism gives the illusion of ‘perks’ to all of us. The pressure from society to ‘fit in’ is a very powerful force. Speaking out against the system is very hazardous and anyone who does it pays a high price. It takes a long time to overcome the toxic misinformation that comes to us from the culture. This makes me think about how many are ‘for peace’ but unwilling to actively oppose war. To oppose war it is necessary to oppose the entire war machine – that includes those who finance the weapons, manufacture the weapon systems, and also those who use the weapons to kill. As a former flag-waver, I do not exonerate myself. Now I finally ‘get it’ and understand the influence of the culture and the school system. There was a time when I believed what the textbooks and teachers taught me. As I say in the book — in the town where I grew up, the only heroes were the ones in military uniforms. Those who are selected as heroes in any culture can have a powerful influence on a young person. Sad to say, now there are uniformed troops going into elementary school classrooms. This is done to honor the troops as role models and instill patriotism in the young student.

KP: Finally, what do you feel is the moral responsibility of judges who rule on laws that they know are immoral and unjust?

RJ: Actually [former New Jersey Superior Court] Judge Andrew Napolitano talks about this often. He talks about Natural Law. In my view this is not even a close call. Morals and justice come first. Maybe that is why I would not be a good lawyer.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.