From Civil Disobedience to Civil
Thursday 2 June 2011
School of the
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience ... Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves ... [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem." -Howard Zinn
Over the years, I've been jailed numerous times. Each such event arose from what is loosely called "civil disobedience."
The tactical value of arrest and ensuing "court witness" and "prison witness" is that they can generate news helping to bring vital, often neglected, issues to public notice. These mindful acts can boost solidarity and the grassroots campaigns in which they are embedded.
At a personal level, court and trial witness help us keep our "edge," maintain our focus, clarify our values. Such public stands impede co-optation. Court witness provides the opportunity to craft trial statements articulating why one has taken part in a given direct action. Along with such statements, the testimony of defense witnesses can be used to turn the tables on the prosecutors. They can put militarism (or whatever issue is at stake) "on trial." And they can be published, reaching well beyond the courtroom.
Those willing to do jail and court witness are often deeply affected. The solidarity and community that may be generated can be transformative. And for privileged folks, and perhaps especially privileged white folks, it's eye opening to expose ourselves to the "justice" system of this overly incarcerating nation. Given the disproportionate numbers of people of color in every jail and prison, any conscious person can't help but become more aware of our society's stark and systemic racism.
Thanks in large part to court and prison witness, one grassroots organization I've long worked with has grown by leaps and bounds. Determined to expose and close the Pentagon's School of the Americas (SOA) - aka the "
Most of us vote. However, merely voting is tokenistic. It's getting a free ride, not paying our fare. It's not doing our part to neutralize the toxic power structure impacting everyone the
Many of us have valid reasons not to risk arrest. But some of us are in a position to take the plunge ... or we're in a position to make changes in our life style or circumstances so we can risk arrest and its consequences when that imperative calls. In any case we can actively support those nonviolently taking such risk. Bradley Manning, the young soldier who allegedly provided WikiLeaks with secret files exposing - among much else - US military massacres of civilians in
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This past winter's events in
"Civil disobedience" isn't the best term for what's been happening in
"Civil defiance" is the term embraced by Harvard's Gene Sharp. Sharp's tally of "198 Methods of Nonviolent Action" is reprinted in the appendix of his seminal 93-page "From Dictatorship to Democracy," fourth
Egyptian activists have likely read "From Dictatorship." We also would do well to study it to understand not only the rise of people power throughout the
In March, Ed was arrested - along with over 30 others - at
Ed Kinane is an essayist and anti-state terror activist based in
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs