The nonviolent resistance and the reasons for it, from the political “Climate Code Red” to the personal “See you in jail: It’s not symbolism when you live in D.C.”, Why civil disobedience may be necessary on climate change have been covered, so I won’t be repeating that.
I thought I might weigh in from a slightly different perspective, but first my credentials.
I have on more than one occasion had reason to discuss forestry practices and First Nation rights with members of various law enforcement agencies here in Canada. There is also the rather odd distinction of being thrown out of jail after only a week because they needed room.
More importantly, for many years I have, more or less at random, taught a 12 week course in the “Politics of Resistance.” It is conceptually organized around Gene Sharp’s three volume “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” and Bill Moyer’s “Doing Democracy” and covers everything from the theoretical concepts underlying nonviolent resistance through the practicalities of action, arrest, court, and jail.
So been around the block, as it were.
“Those who profess to love freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without ploughing. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did. And it never will.”
Do I agree with using civil disobedience (hereafter CD) as a political method? Of course, that’s why I teach people how to do it. From the suffragettes, through labour, civil rights, the Indian independance movement etc we only have many of the rights that we do because people were willing to resist.
I believe a real democracy would teach it in schools. It is a powerful tool that should be part of every activists tool box.
Since it is a powerful tool you can accomplish some pretty amazing things when it is used correctly for the right job. In the same vein, it can be useless, even very damaging to the individual, group, and cause when used incorrectly or for the wrong purpose.
“Corbett Bishop, a WWII draft resister, was arrested on Sept 9, 1944. He told the police that the spirit is free and if they wanted his body they would have to take it without his cooperation. He refused to eat, stand up, or dress himself. He was force-fed and carried around in the prison and the court. After 144 days he was suddenly released on probation from his 4 year sentence. He refused to cooperate with the terms of his probation and was locked up again to serve the rest of the 4 years. He continued his resistance, and after another 49 days he was released unconditionally.”
Per Herngren 1993
I blogged before about being uncomfortable with Al Gore calling for CD actions if he was not willing to stand at the barricades as well. Not necessarily every time, or even today, but at some point.
“Going to jail, doing civil disobedience, isn’t all that special or threatening. It’s just something that has to be done in a world where insanity is legal. Civil disobedience is a fact of life. I hope we can learn to accept it gracefully.”
Shelly Douglas (from prison)
There is the potential for significant consequences for those involved, and one should not call on others to do what one is unwilling to do oneself. Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi etc were not great leaders because they hung back while others took the risks.
So it’s very heartening to see that recognized leaders such as Bill McKibben “”Why I’m Planning to Get Arrested on Monday (and You Should, Too)” Wendell Berry “An invitation to illegally occupy a coal power plant from Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry” and James Hansen “Is it time for civil disobedience at coal plants? Would you get arrested to help save a livable climate? Here’s your chance Monday in DC.” will be participating, not to mention the endorsement and support from many other prominent people.
“I do not wish to be here, but if the price of resistance is going to be jail for some of us. To say yes to life and no to death is going to cost us something.”
John Bell (from jail)
If you are contemplating CD (and every citizen should be ready to do so when the situation calls for it, and our plight certainly does), there are many things to know. Some key ones I would highlight are:
It comes as a surprise to some people that when they commit a crime that carries a potential sentence of, say up to six months in prison, they will conceivably be sentenced to up to six months in prison.
Equally the system can get quite creative in laying charges. Actions that people believed would amount to no more than trespass or some such misdemeanor turn up as sabotage, aggravated assault, or some other nasty surprise.
“Any great change must expect opposition, because it strikes at the very foundation of privilege.”
Lucretia Mott 1853
Often things play out more or less as planned, or at least an acceptable variation of it. Often, but not always. Be at least mentally prepared for the unexpected.
So, if you are contemplating CD and have no experience, get training! Know what you are getting into and what to do once you are in it, from the action itself right through the arrest, court and jail experience.
“From a political perspective I have never been as effective outside of the walls as I have in prison.”
Per Herngren (1993, pg 140)
The other risk is to movement dynamics. Doing CD brings a lot of powerful emotions into play and it definitely is an emotional high. There are even people you come to recognize as ‘CD junkies’, as well as people who are simply using the opportunity to play out personal anger issues.
One of the dynamics that invariably comes into play is the entire ‘violence vs nonviolence’ non-debate (very similar to the Denier vs science non-discussions) and the associated ‘what is violence?’
Hopefully we will have learned from the anti-globalization movement which seemed to have such promise at the WTO Seattle 1999 actions, and yet tore itself apart during and after the 2001 SOA Quebec City, Prague and Genoa protests.
Many within the movement were unwilling to be associated with this sort of thing, and the public understandably did not accept a movement protesting the violence of globalization while tolerating these sorts of tactics to gain it’s ends.
An oversimplification to be sure, with many other factors playing a significant roles, particularly 9/11 and an increasing sense of futility. How could it be otherwise when referring to a movement that spanned years and involved millions of people?
Even so, the internal dynamics were probably a big reason a movement which really seemed to have the chance to unite global resistance degenerated into little more than Summit hopping and Photo Ops for the leadership.
The intent [of a trial] is to get a dialogue going, not to be defended.
Per Herngren (1993, pg 128)
So let’s hope today is the dawn of a political movement emulating the discipline and effectiveness of the civil rights movement, having learned from the mistakes of a decade ago. We have to get this one right the first time, because there won’t be any second chances.
“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown in to it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the set of existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends up with being branded an enemy of society.”
We give our consent every moment that we do not resist.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 128 … still no evidence.