Archives for posts with tag: Civil Disobedience

Matt Damon reads from Howard Zinn’s speach ‘The problem is Civil Obedience’ (1970)

The problem in this world is not civil disobedience…the problem in this world is civil obedience.” – Howard Zinn, being read by Matt Damon

100 Rosa Park
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American woman who worked as a seamstress, boarded this Montgomery City bus to go home from work. On this bus on that day, Rosa Parks initiated a new era in the American quest for freedom and equality.

She sat near the middle of the bus, just behind the 10 seats reserved for whites. Soon all of the seats in the bus were filled. When a white man entered the bus, the driver (following the standard practice of segregation) insisted that all four blacks sitting just behind the white section give up their seats so that the man could sit there. Mrs. Parks, who was an active member of the local NAACP, quietly refused to give up her seat.

Her action was spontaneous and not pre-meditated, although her previous civil rights involvement and strong sense of justice were obvious influences. “When I made that decision,” she said later, “I knew that I had the strength of my ancestors with me.”

She was arrested and convicted of violating the laws of segregation, known as “Jim Crow laws.” Mrs. Parks appealed her conviction and thus formally challenged the legality of segregation.

At the same time, local civil rights activists initiated a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. In cities across the South, segregated bus companies were daily reminders of the inequities of American society. Since African Americans made up about 75 percent of the riders in Montgomery, the boycott posed a serious economic threat to the company and a social threat to white rule in the city.

A group named the Montgomery Improvement Association, composed of local activists and ministers, organized the boycott. As their leader, they chose a young Baptist minister who was new to Montgomery: Martin Luther King, Jr. Sparked by Mrs. Parks’ action, the boycott lasted 381 days, into December 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation law was unconstitutional and the Montgomery buses were integrated. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the beginning of a revolutionary era of non-violent mass protests in support of civil rights in the United States.

It was not just an accident that the civil rights movement began on a city bus. In a famous 1896 case involving a black man on a train, Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court enunciated the “separate but equal” rationale for Jim Crow. Of course, facilities and treatment were never equal.

Under Jim Crow customs and laws, it was relatively easy to separate the races in every area of life except transportation. Bus and train companies couldn’t afford separate cars and so blacks and whites had to occupy the same space.

Thus, transportation was one the most volatile arenas for race relations in the South. Mrs. Parks remembers going to elementary school in Pine Level, Alabama, where buses took white kids to the new school but black kids had to walk to their school.

“I’d see the bus pass every day,” she said. “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world” (emphasis added).http://www.thehenryford.org/exhibits/rosaparks/story.asp

Since May, artist Brandan Odums has been painting graffiti-style murals inside the ruined remains of the Florida public housing complex in the 9th Ward. His energetic spray-paintings depict many of the heroes of the civil rights movement: Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Gordon Parks and several others. He calls the suite of paintings Project Be. Notice the rusty water mark on the iron back staircases that marks the height of the 2005 flood.

Since May, artist Brandan Odums has been painting graffiti-style murals inside the ruined remains of the Florida public housing complex in the 9th Ward. His energetic spray-paintings depict many of the heroes of the civil rights movement: Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Gordon Parks and several others. He calls the suite of paintings Project Be.

Only a handful of people have walked through Brandan Odums’ graffiti masterpiece “Project Be,” a series of bigger-than life portraits of civil rights heroes painted on the walls of the ruined Florida public housing complex in the 9th Ward. Photos of the work have made it possible for many more to appreciate the project from a distance, but Odums’ suite of stunning paintings has special power when viewed inside the empty, once-flooded buildings.

Unfortunately, the site is off-limits to the public. The dilapidated pastel townhouses where the murals are located are scheduled to be demolished and redeveloped in 2014.

What if, however, the custodian of the buildings, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), would join forces with a local art organization to make a weekend tour possible? The art organization that jumps to my mind immediately is Prospect New Orleans, the folks that brought us Prospect.1, the phenomenal citywide art exhibit that took place in 2008.

Prospect New Orleans is going to present another big international show in the fall of 2014. In the meantime, they plan to whet the appetite of the Crescent City public with educational programs and other preliminary projects.

A weekend tour of a civil rights-oriented series of graffiti murals in a flood-ruined, old-style, public housing complex sounds like a teaching moment to me. And Odums’ paintings would tie in perfectly with Prospect New Orleans’ plans to exhibit works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti tagger turned New York art scene superstar.

Sure, somebody would have to sweep up the broken glass in the Florida complex apartments and carpenters would have to replace broken steps, but with plenty of security and volunteer guides to help visitors safely navigate the site, it could be done.

The artwork is undeniably a product of trespassing. But, as far as I know, no one was harmed and no property was damaged – if you allow that the property was already slated for demolition. Anyway, civil disobedience is an American tradition, right? Without it, there would have been no civil rights movement. I’d agree that illegal graffiti shouldn’t be encouraged, but this was hardly what I’d call an antisocial enterprise.

A tour of Odums’ paintings is worth doing.

http://www.nola.com/arts/index.ssf/2013/09/allow_the_public_to_visit_bran_1.html

13 percent of Americans claim that they would commit some form of non-violent civil disobedience to get action on climate change

13 percent of Americans claim that they would commit some form of non-violent civil disobedience to get action on climate change

According to a fascinating poll that came out last week, 13 percent of Americans claim that they would commit some form of non-violent civil disobedience to get action on climate change. To me, this is a dramatic number. Americans are not willing to put up with denial any longer. Opinions are shifting — hard and fast. People understand the risks as they begin to see and feel the impacts, and are tired of the dysfunction that is preventing change. All that these individuals need is a clear, direct action to take.

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and there has been much focus on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — but it caused me to re-read another King work, his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

When you consider the impact climate change will have on our collective future, it is instructive to remember what Martin Luther King had to say about the power of non-violent civil disobedience in that letter in 1958.

The prophetic points of this message are numerous, but I will highlight two here that standout for their timeless wisdom.

The first was his outline of the preparation needed for mass, non-violent protest. He advocated a four-step process of analysis, negotiation, self-purification, and, finally, confrontation. The ordering here was crucial; only after the first three stages did he advocate the last.

Dr. King’s second observation was that even after the deliberate execution of those careful steps, confrontation was always “untimely” for the so-called moderates, arriving too soon for their comfort.

Dr. King’s key insight is not just that outright oppressors never give up their advantages willingly, but also that moderates never advocate any direct, non-violent, attack on the status quo because they are actually satisfied with it.

For the sake of our own struggle, this point is worth keeping in mind. Because of self-interest, the dirty energy industry will always engage in fierce, intense opposition. But what about the moderates of our era? Are they still satisfied with the status quo? I think not.

Returning, then, to the 13 percent who would personally engage in civil disobedience, how should we interpret this level of commitment?

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson thought that 15 percent of the general population was the number needed for accomplishing significant transformation. If he was correct, this may represent a tipping point. We may be on the precipice of major change.

Let’s hope we are.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-steyer/on-the-precipice-of-change_b_3831483.html

96 Amnesty International

This Essay by John Greenwell, originally prepared in 1970, was intended as background to the problem of civil disobedience which then confronted Amnesty International.

Amnesty International’s mandate was “to work for the release of and provision of assistance to persons who in violation of the provisions of (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are imprisoned, detained or otherwise physically restricted by reason of their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs or by reason of their ethnic origin, sex, colour, or language, provided that they have not used or advocated violence”.  During the 1960s as a result of the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the struggles against colonialism and apartheid, many people refused to obey laws and claimed the right to break them on the ground they conscientiously believed them to be wrong.

Amnesty International was born in the cold war and its work had at the outset focussed upon the prisoner of conscience who was being physically restricted for his or her conscientiously held ‘beliefs’.  Questions arose at the time this essay was written whether and to what extent the organisation should work to sustain those imprisoned for conscientious civil disobedience.

It’s excellent and well worth a read:

http://www.johngreenwell.id.au/amnesty.html#civdisobedandamint

93 NSA Shirt

Liberty Maniacs is a merchandising company known for taking smart and snarky digs at the government; its parody T-shirts contain slogans like “Santorum Happens” and “The CIA: Democratizing the Shit Out of the Third World.”

Not surprising then was the company’s recent decision to make a product line that parodied the dreaded NSA. Liberty Maniacs’ new line of merchandise carries the official agency seal, edited to read, “Peeping While You’re Sleeping,” along with the slogan, “The NSA. The Only Part of the Government That Actually Listens.”

Funny, right? Apparently, not to everyone.

According to The Daily Dot, the popular online market site Zazzle quickly removed the line from its site almost as soon as it went live. The reason cited was that Liberty Maniacs’ use of the NSA seal “may infringe upon intellectual property rights.”

But considering the company’s products are an obvious parody, it would seem that T-shirts like this are a protected form of speech and fall under Fair Use.

The NSA categorically disagrees. The agency issued its own statement about the shirts to The Daily Dot:

    The NSA seal is protected by Public Law 86-36, which states that it is not permitted for “…any person to use the initials ‘NSA,’ the words ‘National Security Agency’ and the NSA seal without first acquiring written permission from the Director of NSA.”

The agency also claimed it didn’t contact Zazzle about Liberty Maniacs’ products in particular, but confirmed its policy is to take “appropriate measures” against any attempts to co-opt their logo.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/08/31/national-security-agency-parody-shirts?cmpid=tp-twtr

Image

After four years of campaigning (including bearing witness and taking direct action by Greenpeace activists on the Rainbow Warrior against bottom trawling fishing vessels in the Tasman Sea) to bring an end to deep-sea bottom trawling, an international agreement has been made to protect just under 25 percent of the high seas from this incredibly destructive fishing method.

Representatives from countries around the world gathered in Chile to carve out a fisheries agreement for the South Pacific region. Following a resolution made by the UN in 2006, the countries at the meeting responded strongly with measures to stop destruction of deep water corals, seamounts and other sensitive habitats by vessels that  are bottom trawling in international waters.

From September 2007 bottom trawling vessels in the South Pacific will not be able to fish in areas that have or are even likely to have vulnerable marine ecosystems, unless they’ve completed an assessment to show they won’t do any damage.

The New Zealand fishing industry is responsible for 90 percent of bottom trawling in the region. New Zealand delegates told the meeting these measures would “severely constrain the ability of their fishing industry to continue bottom trawling on the high seas around New Zealand”  and suggested that it may even have the effect of putting an end to bottom trawling.

We’ll be watching to make sure that New Zealand – and all the member countries – put the agreement into action, and implement the measures that will protect the irreplaceable biodiversity of deep sea ecosystems.

Image: Crewman on the New Zealand bottom trawler dump a large piece of ‘Paragorgia’ coral dredged from the deep sea in their net.

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/Landmark-for-deep-sea240507/

http://www.munz.org.nz/2005/06/08/maritime-union-backs-greenpeace-protest-action-against-bottom-trawling/

http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/blog/seafood-boss-has-fishy-view-on-bottom-trawlin/blog/26775/

89-london-cyclists-demand-safer-streets-and--space-for-cycling_2566931
Thousands of cyclists rode slowly past parliament in one of the bigger two-wheeled protests seen in Britain in recent years, timed to coincide with a Commons debate on measures designed to significantly boost cycling around the country. The mass event was timed to coincide with Commons debate after transport department junks Get Britain Cycling report.

The protest, organised by the London Cycling Campaign (LCC), will set off from the south bank of the Thames, before snaking around Parliament Square. It is hard to predict numbers, but they are expected to be high, with feeder rides joining from several other parts of the capital.

The event, billed Space for Cycling, has two purposes: firstly, to pressure London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, into speeding up a programme to make the city’s roads more cycle-friendly; and also to remind MPs and ministers in the Commons chamber that there is an appetite for change among two-wheeled voters nationally.

One of those waiting at the start of the protest, Holi-May Thomas, from Brixton in south London, was joining the event on a sturdy sit-up-and-beg bike, wearing a summer dress and no helmet (“I’ve got a sensible bike but I’m not a sensible girl”).

The 27-year-old cafe manager said she rode everywhere but wanted to call for more respect for cyclists on the road: “It can be scary, and there’s so many reasons why cycling is good for a city. We all need to be able to share the roads better.”

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/02/cycling-protesters-surround-parliament-london

http://www.demotix.com/photo/2566931/london-cyclists-demand-safer-streets-and-space-cycling

Egypt TV satirist Bassem Youssef
Comics such as Bassem Youssef (Picture) are attacked by Islamist leaders – but satire’s job is to lampoon the powerful.

At a friend’s birthday party in Cairo recently, one of the most popular songs the DJ in the downtown bar played that night was one consisting entirely of a speech Mohamed Morsi made soon after becoming president of Egypt, to a dance beat.Everyone on the dance floor knew the words, which they would yell in between giggles of derision.

Just a few days earlier in response to a curfew that Morsi slapped on the canal cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailiyya, football fans arranged for matches to coincide with the start of the curfew and residents took it a step further by launching protests that began 15 minutes before the start of the curfew.

To understand Bassem Youssef – the heart surgeon turned comedian who has been on the receiving end of legal trouble – in his Egyptian context and not simply as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”, think of his satire as being like this kind of popular derision projected to 30 million viewers across the Arab world. Youssef faces several legal complaints and was summoned recently by a prosecutor general – who was controversially appointed by Morsi – and questioned over allegations of insulting the president, Islam and “spreading false news with the aim of disrupting public order”.

What is satire if not a marriage of civil disobedience to a laugh track, a potent brew of derision and lack of respect that acts as a nettle sting on the thin skin of the humourless?

Post-revolution, Bassem Youssef and other comedians name names of those in power and the powerful. It’s exactly because they neither respect nor obey that they have become targets of Islamists who think they’ve inherited countries unchanged since the days of Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zein El Abidine Ben Ali, and the rest.

In Tunisia, Sami Fehri, a producer of a political puppet show that mocked the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has been in jail since November.

These are just a few, of many examples of where humour, satire and comedy are brave acts of civil disobedience

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/10/egypt-satire-bassem-youssef

theguardian.com, Wednesday 10 April 2013

87 Camden 28

In the early-morning hours of Sunday, August 22, 1971, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General John Mitchell announced that FBI agents had arrested 20 antiwar activists in and near a draft board office in Camden, New Jersey. Five days later, Mitchell made public the indictment of these individuals and included eight others who were linked to the break-in. The major charges against the group were conspiracy to remove and destroy files from the draft board, FBI office, and the Army Intelligence office; destruction of government property and interfering with the Selective Service system. If convicted, some of the indicted faced up to 47 years in federal prison. The men and women arrested that summer of ’71 in Camden called themselves “America’s conscience.” The government called them the Camden 28.

Surprisingly, included among the Camden 28 were four Catholic priests and one Lutheran minister. All but one of the remaining 23 were Catholic laypeople. All were part of a nonviolent antiwar movement the government and the media referred to as the “Catholic Left.” One of the most dramatic tactics utilized by this movement was breaking into Selective Service offices across the country to remove and destroy government draft records that identified young men available for military service. The activists claimed that their civil disobedience was meant to call attention to their belief that killing – even in war – was morally indefensible. They targeted the draft for the simple fact that it was the clearest symbol of that immorality because it compelled citizens to kill. Between 1967 and 1971, members of the “Catholic Left” claimed responsibility for over 30 draft board raids and the destruction of close to a million Selective Service documents. By 1971, the “Catholic Left” had become one of the most inventive forces of the antiwar movement.

During the more than two months the defense took to present its case, each of the defendants spoke at length, often with moving eloquence. In an unusual arrangement three young lawyers aided the activists who chose either to act as their own lawyers or to have “co-counsel,” in which defendants could both speak for themselves and have an attorney speak for them. Far from pleading innocent to the charges, they proudly proclaimed their guilt. “I ripped up those files with my hands,” declared the Rev. Peter D. Fordi, adding, “They were the instruments of destruction.” The Camden activists asked the jury to “nullify the laws” against breaking and entering and to acquit them as a means of saying that the country had had enough of the “illegal and immoral” war in Vietnam. They also asked the jury to acquit on the grounds that the raid would not have taken place without the help of a self-admitted FBI informer and provocateur. The defendants emphasized that they had given up their plan, for lack of a practical means, until the informer-provocateur had resurrected it and provided them with the encouragement and tools to carry it out.

After three and a half months, the case went to the jury. Judge Fisher’s charge broke new legal ground. Despite the fact that the defendants admitted plotting the action before the informer appeared, Judge Fisher informed the jury they could acquit if they felt government participation in setting up the crime had gone to “intolerable” lengths that were “offensive to the basic standards of decency and shocking to the universal sense of justice.” However, he added that although it was in their power, it would not be proper to decide the verdict on the issue of the war, and that “protest is not an acceptable legal defense, as sincerely motivated as I think they were.” After three days of deliberations, a jury of seven women and five men returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges against the antiwar activists. According to The New York Times, at that moment, “the defendants . . . and 200 supporters . . . burst into cheers, wept, hugged one another and sang a chorus of Amazing Grace.” The acquittals represented the first complete legal victory for the antiwar movement in five years of such draft board actions.

http://www.camden28.org