Civil Disobedience by any name

Civil Disobedience by any name

In the fight for social justice and the continuance of the planet, civil nonviolent resistance is indeed not only necessary and it is certainly justifiable. I would prefer to call it ‘civil nonviolent resistance’ or possibly ‘people engagement’ or even ‘friendly persuasion’ rather than civil disobedience but ‘what is in a name?’ We will be undoubtedly be called hooligans whatever label we choose to use. Whatever we call it, it will be immediately labeled as civil disobedience so let’s accept that from the start.

Societies would be in constant turmoil if we did not obey just laws. Equally important – one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws, (and unjust practices) just as many is history have said. We need to disapprove and to collectively rebel against the acceptance of long-established political, corporate, and common everyday practices that diminish and destroy any ray of hope for future generations.

Clive Hamilton is his book Requiem for a Species says “Reclaiming democracy for the citizenry is the only way to temper the effects of climate disruption and ensure that the wealthy and powerful cannot protect their own interests at the expense of the rest of us. To do so requires a new radicalism, a radicalism that refuses to be drawn into short-term electoral trade-offs and that aims to shift the ground of politics itself.”

He further says “When just laws are used to protect unjust behavior, our obligation to uphold the laws is diminished. In the usual course of affairs it is right to allow the normal democratic process, however slowly its wheels may turn, to change the laws to reflect the new reality. In 2008 the truth of this was acknowledged in the case of six Greenpeace protesters arrested for causing criminal damage to the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant in Kent, scaling its smokestack and painting a slogan on it. Persuaded by the defense’s argument that the protesters had a lawful excuse – for in causing damage they were trying to prevent the greater harm being done by the power plant to the climate – the jury of ordinary citizens acquitted the six.”

“for in causing damage they were trying to prevent the greater harm being done by the power plant to the climate – the jury of ordinary citizens acquitted the six.”

Adrian Johnson in an article from 2009 (which I found on the net) suggested that civil disobedience must meet three specific criteria to be justifiable – Righteous intentions, nonviolent means and the desire to communicate the desire for change. I would add that participants in civil disobedience must also be prepared to accept the punishment and abuse imposed by the various authorities for their conduct.

“Thoreau, what are you doing in there?”

“Emerson, what are you doing out there?”

Henry David Thoreau saw that his taxes were being used to fund war and slavery and as a protest, he refused to pay his taxes. When Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed surprise at seeing his friend Thoreau in jail for his tax violation, Emerson asked, “Thoreau, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Emerson, what are you doing out there?” Indeed – just as Thoreau implied; regardless of the consequences, we must unite and get on the correct side of a worldwide movement and get away from the status quo side.

Once a person makes the decision to engage in the philosophy of conscientious objection, the protester in fact demands that the penalty for such violations be imposed. Acceptance of penalties and abuse are in fact a fundamental part of the whole process.

Individuals must always expect to be verbally abused, beaten or jailed by those who resist change and the want the status quo. Resisters must be prepared to except this wrath or we collectively risk failure in our efforts. When one makes a decision to be engaged in acts of conscience then one must stand their ground and accept the consequences that will be imposed by law for their actions. Reacting with violence will only gain us all the unwanted label of militants, rabble–rouser, delinquents etc.

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