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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There are many paths to civil disobedience. If your objective was to have the congressman sign a pledge, was this the best path? Wasn't your true intent for him to rethink his own morality, to change his use of power? Did your action make any headway to this end? Perhaps you'll never know??

I certainly am not against civil disobedience. Silence is acceptance- a lesson that, sadly, humanity has not learned though we have repeatedly been given opportunity with that lesson.

What motivates the congressman to vote the way he does? Is it because he takes his obligation as a representative of the people to heart and he IS representing a larger audience.

Is it because he is motivated by fear? Seems to be a general theme in our country now.

In any event it seems to be a much larger problem- a systems problem. So how do we change the system. How do we "teach" our society to be tolerant of what is different?

You have my respect as a man of conviction though we may see different paths to the destination.

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