Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Civil Disobedience Matters

(You should read the previous post to understand the context of this post)

As I was being handcuffed by an undercover officer from the Chicago Police Department, he looked at me with disdain and posited, "Why are you making us arrest you? You made your point, the media saw it, the congressman will hear about it. What's the point of getting arrested?"

I had thought about this question before I made the decision to risk arrest. It seemed a logical question to think through given that I was going to remain in the office until the congressman signed the pledge. Nevertheless, the officer's question got me thinking even more about the importance of arrest in civil disobedience.

I believe unequivocally that protesting war and violence is of utmost importance, everything from reducing (or eliminating) your use of gasoline, writing letters to politicians, engaging in nonviolent work, etc. These forms of protest are good, but the rubber begins to meet the road when talk about demonstrating and risking arrest come into play.

There was a crucial decision to make when the CPD officer (who happened to be drinking a slurpee while he handcuffed me and was later smoking a cigar while he processed me at the jail) stated that everyone who didn't want to be arrested should leave. If we were to leave at this warning, and thus didn't force the officer to remove us by force, our message would be compromised.

Protesting violence and war up to the point of arrest and then acquiescing to the state (police in this case) legitimates the violence used by the state. It legitimates the effectiveness of the state to use coercive violence to silence citizens. If we were to get up from the ground at that point we would be giving credence to the state's ability to silence our voice with the threat of violence and arrest.(1) On the contrary, protesting war and violence nonviolently and forcing the state to use violence to attempt to silence that voice is truly a witness to the power of nonviolence. Through forcing the state to silence nonviolent protest with violence, we are bringing shame to the state's only recourse to respond to protest -- violence.

Jesus Christ calls his disciples out of the world, our of the system of domination and redemptive violence that our world is built upon. In the same breath, we are called to speak truth to that system that oppresses and marginalizes people. We are called to speak truth to the reality that is war and to the way that violence demeans the image of God in people.

By speaking truth to the system of domination and violence by nonviolent action, we force the system to show its true colors. We force the system to attempt to silence our voices with violence. But those voices won't be silenced. Nonviolence wins. Love wins.

(1) Yeah this is a footnote on my blog--The other serious result of leaving the building before arrest is abandoning your representation of those who have died as a result of the war. Resurrecting yourself because of the threat of arrest does a pretty grave injustice to those you are trying to represent.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Public Witness and Arrest

Tuesday, July 22nd, we gathered at the office of Congressman Rahm Emanuel's to testify to the death and destruction that the Iraq war has caused. Emanuel, a democrat, has consistently voted to support funding of the war in Iraq.

Our public witness (also called a nonviolent action or demonstration) was planned around the theme of delivering to Rep. Emanuel what he has ordered through his votes. Through those votes he has ordered death and destruction. We brought that death to his office as 9 CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams)trainees served as bodies which symbolized the deaths of Americans, Iraqis, soldiers, and civilians. We also littered Emanuel's office with symbols of the destruction of Iraq: rubble, broken toys, smashed telephones, broken pieces of cars, shredded school books, etc. The purpose of the action was to urge Emanuel to sign a pledge stating that he would no longer vote to support funding of the Iraq war. As a part of the Occupation Project, started by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, we planned to occupy Rahm Emmanuel's office until he agreed to sign the pledge. The alternative option was to sign the invoice for the delivery that he ordered. We wanted to make the consequences of Emanuel's voting record less abstract, so we attempted to show him the death and destruction that results from the war. We wanted to show Congressman Emanuel that there is an alternative to war, the way of peace, the affirmation of life.

Once the office staff gathered that we planned to stay until Rep. Emanuel signed the pledge (which we were told Emanuel doesn't do as a principle, except his oath to office), the police we called to remove us from the office. Once approximately 10 policeman arrived, they gave us a final chance to leave the building before we were arrested. We were subsequently handcuffed and escorted to a police wagon. We were then taken to the 17th district Chicago Police Station on Pulaski and Lawrence. We spent a relatively short time in jail, from about 5:30 to 8:30. We were charged with criminal trespassing, which is a misdemeanor. The women who were imprisoned spent much more time in jail, 13 hours, and were subject to some fairly dehumanizing treatment.

The reason we did the action was to testify to the myth of war, and to the truth of peace. You can't condemn violence perpetrated by the other and then overcome that violence through violence of your own, that is the myth of redemptive violence. As Derek Webb sings, "Peace by way of war is like telling someone murder is wrong and then showing them by way of execution." We wanted to testify to the reality of war, for soldiers in Iraq and for the people of Iraq. Although the message about the reality of war is incredibly important, we also wanted to lace our message with the alternative, the redemptive and transformative way of peace.

Soon I will write about the connection between Christianity and civil disobedience, how I see nonviolent resistance to the state and the systems that oppress people as an integral part of Christianity.

Monday, July 07, 2008

NPR Interview

I was interviewed by NPR - These Days in San Diego regarding my recent trip to the West Bank. The interview was live on July 7th @ 10am. Follow this link to listen to the interview.

The interview is a really short highlight reel of life in the West Bank. It's like when ESPN shows highlights from a soccer game but doesn't even show all the goals in the game. Metaphor aside, it helps to begin to paint the picture of life in the West Bank.

Thanks for listening :)