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Posts tagged Civil Disobedience

In Dire Need

Fifty-three years ago to-day, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from Birmingham Jail.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. . . . One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.

. . . I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

. . . You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. . . . Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. . . .

–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 April 1963)

Monday Lazy Linking

    <ul>
<li><a href="http://aaeblog.com/2009/10/11/hugo-mexicano/">Hugo Mexicano. <cite>Austro-Athenian Empire</cite> (2009-10-11)</a>. in which Roderick reviews Juarez -- one of my stronger memories from high-school Spanish. <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Sunday 2009-10-11.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://libertarian-labyrinth.blogspot.com/2009/10/dyer-lum-on-mutualism-and-note-on.html">Dyer Lum on Mutualism, and a note on Proudhon. Shawn P. Wilbur, <cite>In the Libertarian Labyrinth</cite> (2009-10-02)</a>. <q>I'm working on gathering the pieces for a series of pamphlets documenting the mutualist tradition, and ran across this rather strange, but very interesting piece, but the frequently strange, but always interesting Dyer D. Lum. Tucker's translation of the first volume of The System of Economical Contradictions was published in...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Sunday 2009-10-11.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://twitter.com/diveintomark/statuses/4701803934">diveintomark: &quot;Dive Into Python&quot; has now earned me over $10,000 in  royalties, despite being Free and online for 8 years. <cite>Twitter / diveintomark</cite> (2009-10-11)</a>. But without Intellectual Protectionism laws, how would anyone ever make a living writing books? <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Sunday 2009-10-11.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://www.fr33agents.com/1059/keene-the-peaceful-civil-disobedience-apex/">Keene, the Peaceful Civil-Disobedience Apex. James B Schlessinger Jr, <cite>Fr33 Agents</cite> (2009-10-08)</a>. <q>Activists light up a marijuana cigarette in the Keene Police Station James B Schlessinger Jr. October 5th, 2009 Words on paper are not stopping activists and locals from living like free people in Keene, New Hampshire.  Whether it is marijuana consumption on the Commons or a young woman going topless...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Sunday 2009-10-11.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2009/10/11/the-good-old-days-2/">The Good Old Days. Jill, <cite>Feministe</cite> (2009-10-11)</a>. <q>This article will make you lose your lunch. The idea is that sex with children is more taboo today than it was in Roman Polanski’s era — thanks to victims’ rights groups and a family values revival. The evidence? Well, Polanski himself, and this one Woody Allen movie. The article...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Sunday 2009-10-11.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://www.blagnet.net/2009/10/06/anarchist-elliot-madison-wrongfully-arrested-robbed/">Anarchist Elliot Madison wrongfully arrested, robbed. John, <cite>Blagnet.net</cite> (2009-10-06)</a>. <q>In a continuation of law-enforcement agencies’ general disdain for and dismissal of our civil liberties, Elliot Madison, a self-described anarchist, was arrested for using Twitter and a police scanner to help G20 protesters coordinate their efforts and avoid police officers. The charges on which he was held don’t indicate any...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Monday 2009-10-12.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/reason/DailyBrickbats/~3/NblNFvl5YTc/136005.html">A Shocking Development. <cite>Daily Brickbats</cite> (2009-09-14)</a>. <q>Two Gwinnett County police sergeants have resigned and Cpl. Gary Miles has been arrested after Miles allegedly used a Taser on a Waffle House waiter as a joke. The sergeants reportedly saw the incident and did not report it. The department is investigating claims a fourth officer pointed a Taser...</q> <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Monday 2009-10-12.)</em></li>
<li><a href="http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/reason/DailyBrickbats/~3/RVdV_EdGN8w/136118.html">Ending the Cycle. <cite>Daily Brickbats</cite> (2009-10-12)</a>. Green Government in a nutshell. <em style="font-size: smaller">(Linked Monday 2009-10-12.)</em></li>

Border politics

From Ray Ybarra:

Someday children will be able to walk into a library and read about a period in history when thousands of migrants died attempting to unlawfully enter nation-states. The children will be appalled to read in this history book that there was once a time when human mobility across borders was not recognized as a human right. In the final chapter of the book, they will read about how the oppressed and disenfranchised across the globe organized to demand recognition of what was already known in their hearts. The time to write that final chapter is now.

For two years, I tracked anti-immigrant vigilantes through the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border. I met migrants who had blood coming out of their noses and purple masses where their lips used to be. I came upon migrants who were drinking their own urine to postpone death and saw mothers carrying their babies through the scorching, unforgiving terrain. I cannot forget the faces of people who were walking for days simply to find a job. I met mothers whose children died of dehydration and spent countless hours trying to conceive of a solution to the human rights tragedy created by borders. After many discussions with migrants, from rural communities in Mexico, to the border, and in communities across the United States, I kept hearing the same phrase: Tenemos un derecho humano a cruzar fronteras, translated, We have a human right to cross borders.

. . . Challenging the assumption that the rights of countries to regulate migration are superior to our rights as human beings to cross borders is long overdue. Now is the time for migrants and their allies to share their experiences, hopes, and aspirations, and to stop tailoring the discourse to sound appealing to the oppressors.

Past social movements provide examples of individuals asserting their rights despite immoral laws. Rosa Parks knew she possessed the right to sit anywhere on the bus. Before the passage of the 19th Amendment, Susan B. Anthony knew that women possessed the right to vote. Similarly, we must now turn to those who are most profoundly affected by immoral and inhumane immigration policies to lead us by example. Let us bury the notion that migrants are simply economic victims who need activists to be their voices. Every footstep in the desert can be considered an act of civil disobedience by visionaries paving the way for a movement for equality, liberty, and freedom. Migrants across the world cross international boundaries because they know that mobility is a human right. They have already provided the leadership—now it is time to identify followers.

— Ray Ybarra, Movement Vision Lab (2007-11-25): Crossing the Border: Human Mobility as a Human Right

Read the whole thing.

Right on. My only caveat — the only thing that I’d want to change — is to suggest, instead of act of civil disobedience, to view independent border crossings as direct action. Immigrants aren’t crossing borders in order to get arrested, or to challenge the morality of government border laws; they are crossing borders in order to find homes and jobs — to get the things they need in their lives, even without the approval of coercive governments — in order to render the destructive violence and stupidity of government border laws simply irrelevant to the lives that they lead. Not because political actors have been challenged to the point that they are no longer willing to go on enforcing unjust border laws, but rather because the actions of the immigrants themselves, and those who stand in solidarity with them, have made them unable to go on enforcing unjust border laws, even if they wanted to.

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