Civil disobedience - The history of the concept
The concept of civil disobedience has evolved over a long period of time. Ideas drawn from different periods of history and from different cultures have contributed to its evolution. The idea that there is a law that transcends the laws of the state is found in Socrates (c. 470–399 B.C.E.), in some of the classical Greek tragedies, and in the Indian concept of dharma (duty). In these traditions, should the higher law and the laws of the state come into conflict, the individual had the obligation to disobey the laws of the state. In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) defended the natural-law view that unjust laws did not bind the citizen in conscience. John Locke (1632–1704) taught that the government derived its authority from the people, that one of the purposes of the government was the protection of the natural rights of the people, and that the people had the right to alter the government should it fail to discharge its fundamental duties.
Civil Disobedience - Originally published as "Resistance to Civil Government"
While Walden can be applied to almost anyone's life, "Civil Disobedience" is like a venerated architectural landmark: it is preserved and admired, and sometimes visited, but for most of us there are not many occasions when it can actually be used. Still, although seldom mentioned without references to Gandhi or King, "Civil Disobedience" has more history than many suspect. In the 1940's it was read by the Danish resistance, in the 1950's it was cherished by those who opposed McCarthyism, in the 1960's it was influential in the struggle against South African apartheid, and in the 1970's it was discovered by a new generation of anti-war activists. The lesson learned from all this experience is that Thoreau's ideas really do work, just as he imagined they would.
No victors in the war on dissent
More evidence for historians that the "war on terror" has morphed into a "war on dissent" can be found in the recently leaked reports establishing that both the Pentagon's Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency participated in planning RNC convention security and were possibly involved in crowd control strategies.
At the very least, the intimidating presence of armor-clad police officers at political demonstrations is a visible manifestation of the fascist threat. More pernicious would be any unwarranted, secret collection of information on the various social justice, peace, independent media, musical performance, artistic and legal groups in the lead-up to the RNC. We are currently in the process of determining, through freedom of information type requests, if this in fact, occurred here.
Recent revelations of how the Maryland State Police infiltrated nonviolent groups and falsely labeled dozens of pacifists, environmentalists and Catholic Nuns as terrorists highlights the risks of using undercover law enforcement officers and paid informants to spy on domestic groups. Pressure to produce arrests and convictions justifying the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in precious tax revenues can result in the elevation of rhetoric into threats and dissent into terrorism.
The mind-numbing repetition of the term "anarchists" in recent newspaper coverage of the $300,000, year-long infiltration of protest groups prior to the convention fails to obscure the great lengths to which law enforcement officials went to prevent "street blockades" and other disruptions in St. Paul. Before the RNC even started, authorities executed pre-emptive raids and "preventive detentions"—controversial concepts originally concocted for the "war on terror" that have no place in our Constitution's criminal justice system.
Thanks to Minnesota's version of the PATRIOT Act, the local "war on dissent" has elevated boastful threats to "swarm" the Republican convention and to "shut it down" into charges of conspiracy to riot "in furtherance of terrorism." However, there is no evidence that any of the so-charged "RNC Eight" ever personally committed acts of violence or damaged property. If they were really ready to "destroy" the City of Saint Paul as alleged, why did they operate so openly? Why was their rhetoric, albeit taunting, for the entire world to see on their website?
Make Climate Justice History - Mass civil disobedience March 2nd, 2009 in DC
We're in the process of organizing a mass non-violent civil disobedience to coincide with Power Shift 2009. In late February 2009, the Energy Action Coalition will host over 10,000 climate activists focusing generally on making climate change, clean energy, and green jobs a priority for the new administration. Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, the Ruckus Society, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and a host of others are planning a mass non-violent civil disobedience, with a goal of organizing over 1,000 people, to cross the line and sit-in at the Capital Coal Plant.
Call to Disobedience
An open call to civil disobedience has been issued by two of the United States leading eco-activists, Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben, asking for individuals to join them on Monday March 2, 2009 in Washington D.C. to protest the use of coal fired power plants.
Their Open Call to Civil Disobedience is included below:
There are moments in a nation's-and a planet's-history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2, 2009 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.
We will be there to make several points:
Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level-below 350 parts per million CO2 lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.
Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an economic virtue.
Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in "mountaintop removal" to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the rest of creation.
Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of everything that breathes, including forests.
The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated.
It's time to make clear that we can't safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more--we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants. As part of the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of coal in the future to help save the planet's atmosphere. This is a hard thing to ask, because it's their cheapest fuel. Part of our witness in March will be to say that we're willing to make some sacrifices ourselves, even if it's only a trip to the jail.
With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us, you need to go through a short course of non-violence training. This will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that get to breathe the smoke from the plant.
We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day-it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.
Needless to say, we're not handling the logistics of this day. All the credit goes to a variety of groups, especially the Energy Action Coalition (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and the Rainforest Action Network. A website at that latter organization is serving as a temporary organizing hub. If you go there, you will find a place to leave your name so that we'll know you want to join us.
Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben
P.S This is important -please forward this letter to anyone and everyone you think might be interested
Rainforest Action Network: http://ran.org/get_involved
Groups plan 19-day pre-inaguration peace vigil
When most of Chicago is running in from the cold, a group in Hyde Park is launching Camp Hope, a 19-day outdoor vigil to remind President-Elect Barack Obama and the city about the changes fought for on Election Day.
"We're testifying for ideals that were not just dropped out of the sky," says Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator for the anti-war organization Voices for Creative Non-Violence, one of the groups involved in the event. "We went to the voting booth for them."
Beginning with a kick-off event on New Year's Day at Hyde Park's Drexel Square Park, the event is a collaborative effort by 40 different area organizations that rally around different progressive causes, including non-violence, health care, immigration reform, racial equality, climate change and economic justice. Volunteers will gather from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and hold evening events on various topics.
War of choice: How Israel manufactured the Gaza escalation
At the same time, there's no question Hamas continues to callously sacrifice its fellow Palestinian citizens, as well as Israeli civilians, on the altar of maintaining its pyrrhic resistance credentials and its myopic preoccupation with revenge, and fell into many self-made traps of its own. There had been growing international pressure on Israel to ease its siege and a major increase in creative and nonviolent strategies drawing attention to the plight of Palestinians such as the arrival of humanitarian relief convoys off of Gaza's coast in the past months, but now Gaza lies in ruins.
But as the vastly more powerful actor holding nearly all the cards in this conflict, the war in Gaza was ultimately Israel's choice. And for all this bloodshed and violence, Israel must be held accountable.
Handbook for nonviolent action
Nonviolent action has played a key role in the struggle for social change all over the world. It has a long and proud history, but it is not only something from the past, it lives on in many struggles for freedom, equality and justice. It seems there is a current running from group to group, movement to movement.
Women suffragists learned from the abolitionists; early labor activists borrowed from both of them, adding their own contributions. Civil rights activists, anti-war protesters, people with disabilities, battered women and farm workers (to name a few) all continued the process. Chinese students in Tiannamen Square held signs saying "We Shall Overcome." Sometimes nonviolent direct action responding to oppression or abuse of power seems to spring up spontaneously in apparently unrelated times and places. One of the reasons that these discoveries amaze and inspire us is that official histories and media accounts don't generally record these events.
Nonviolent civil disobedience requires discipline and preparation, as well as burning commitment and desire for change. Contrary to popular mythology Rosa Parks did not just sit down one day on the bus because she was tired. She was a woman trained for this nonviolent action which changed the course of history. Thousands of people, whose names we will never know, made the same preparations for various actions in the campaign for civil rights. Very few of the people we do hear about acted alone.
Choosing nonviolent action
Many people are sceptical about the power of nonviolence against entrenched and brutal regimes. In such situations any resistance is likely to be difficult. Nonviolence does not offer a 'quick fix' in these situations - and neither does armed struggle. Some idealistic movements have turned to armed struggle only to find themselves increasingly separated from the population, depending on extortion and kidnapping to maintain themselves, and in short degenerating into armed bands. Nonviolence aims to work differently. By expanding the social spaces that a movement can occupy, and by giving voice to what the regime requires should not be said, it can set processes of fundamental change in motion. Nonviolent action in the face of torture, 'disappearances' and death squads in various parts of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s aimed to rebuild a social solidarity that could overcome fear.
Because pacifists refuse to resort to organised violence, we need to invest our creative energy in trying to develop nonviolent alternatives. Therefore, pacifists have a history of playing a vital innovatory role in social movements by developing nonviolent methods of action, both at the level of tactics and in forms of organising. For instance, the first US 'freedom rides' against racial segregation in the 1940s were a pacifist initiative, as was the British nonviolent direct action against nuclear weapons in the 1950s. The creative use of nonviolence of these groups opened spaces for a much more widespread use of nonviolence by the mass movements that followed. Later came the introduction of nonviolence training, initially preparing people for the kind of violence that they might meet in nonviolent protests. Subsequently nonviolence training has played an essential role in promoting more participatory forms of movement organisation. Gandhi and Martin Luther King became such towering figures within their own movements that some people have the impression that successful nonviolence depends on 'charismatic' leadership. For us in WRI, however, nonviolent action should be seen as a source of social empowerment -strengthening the capacities of all participants without depending on superhuman leaders. Therefore we have advocated more participatory forms of decision-making, promoted the adoption of forms of organisation based on people grouping into 'affinity groups', and expanded nonviolence training to include tools for the participatory assessment and development of strategy. We argue that the specific strengths of nonviolent strategies are damaged by any resort to violence. These include strengths among the movement - in fostering trust and solidarity among participants in an action, in putting them in touch with sources of their own power to act in a situation. These strengths also include the relationship of a movement towards its antagonists - in inhibiting their violence or at least ensuring that violent repression will backfire politically against them, and in undermining the 'pillars of power' of an oppressive institution by not treating its employees as inanimate tools but rather trying to create possibilities for them to rethink their allegiances. And finally these strengths include the quality of communication with bystanders or 'outsiders' - people not yet concerned about the issue or not yet active about it, people who can be potential allies.
The March of the Dead
In Washington, D.C. on January 6th, The March of the Dead will greet the 111th Congress as they are sworn in to serve the people. Learn more and join in for a powerful dramatic nonviolent action at the U.S. Capitol!
The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia
The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia is a Seattle-based organization which uses nonviolent action to create political and social change. NACC acts to interrupt and transform militarism and other forms of violence, and to build a society based upon community, economic justice, environmental awareness, personal empowerment, and feminist, queer-positive, and anti-racist principles.
NACC uses creative war tax resistance, grant-making, public education, nonviolent direct action, and coalition-building towards these ends, creating community and developing empowerment and conflict-resolution skills in the process.
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Voices for Creative Nonviolence has deep, long-standing roots in active nonviolent resistance to U.S. war-making. Begun in the summer of 2005, Voices draws upon the experiences of those who challenged the brutal economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and U.N. against the Iraqi people between 1990 and 2003. More about Voices
Creative Actions by Sanderson Beck
The first stage of a nonviolent campaign is learning about the problem that needs correcting by studying its history, politics, economics, sociology, and psychology. This means answering such questions as:
Who has been doing what to whom?
Who is in control and wielding the power or making the decisions?
How are financial incentives and economic relations affecting this?
What social relationships and cultural traditions are involved?
Why are people acting as they are?
What is motivating them?
And how can they be given alternative options that are best for all?
The investigation can be done by observing, talking to people, and by direct experience in the situation. Research can be through studying books and periodicals, seeing and hearing news reports, and by searching the world wide web. This first stage is sometimes known as "doing your homework" so that you are informed of the circumstances and will not make a fool out of yourself. Of course not every person participating in a nonviolent campaign has to do all the research. Information can be shared, and often those who enter a campaign in the later and more urgent stages find that they are joining a group effort that has its own history of investigation and research. However, these efforts always need to be updated as circumstances change.
Sisterhood was powerful
When a history of civil disobedience moves us, it is because the writer is able to convey the human emotion at the heart of efforts to stand against the crowd. Ruth Rosen in The World Split Open captures the rage that both forged and tore the women's movement in the latter half of the twentieth century.
It was the rage of women toward men who presumed them to be subordinates and sexual side dishes that compelled the women to start a liberation movement. It was the rage of men who thought women had nothing to complain about that made feminists increasingly strident, but also more demanding of their sisters to speak with one voice. As women expressed themselves, they found they had not one voice, but hundreds, thousands, causing the movement to fragment even as its influence, paradoxically, seeped into most levels of society.
In vividly written passages, Rosen illustrates the level of antipathy toward women who tried to expand the dialogue of the New Left. In January 1969, the day before Richard Nixon's inauguration, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) veteran Marilyn Salzman Webb began her speech at a rally against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. "We as women are oppressed," she proclaimed. "We, as women [who] are supposedly the most privileged in this society, are mutilated as human beings so that we will learn to function within the capitalist system." Suddenly, pandaemonium broke out in front of the stage. Webb plunged on, denouncing a system that treated women as objects and property. To her horror, she watched as "fist fights broke out. Men yelled things like 'Fuck her! Take her off the stage! Rape her in the back alley!'" Rosen writes. Shouts followed, along the lines of "Take it off!"
A Winter Feast for the Soul
January 15 — February 23
The inspiration for this work came out of a three-line Rumi poem:
What nine months does for the embryo,
Forty early mornings
Will do for your growing awareness.
Based on the success of the first Winter Feast in Idaho (2008), the interest that it generated across the globe, and the need for peace efforts at this time in our history, the founders decided to extend the outreach worldwide.