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Civil Disobedience: The Only "Weapon" We Have Remaining?

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There are journalists, however, mostly from alternative news agencies and the foreign press -- Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Greg Palast, and Peter Arnett immediately come to mind -- who maintain their journalistic integrity and strive to report the news accurately and fairly. Such outliers however, are systematically denied access to public officials, barred from areas of protest or are themselves arrested as was the case during the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street activists from Zuccotti Park and elsewhere.

The Citizenry Must Have a Conscience Criterion: As evidenced by the public's support for or indifference to these criminal acts prosecuted in their names, their disinclination to hold policy/law makers responsible for their crimes -- to prosecute those who violate the law -- and their willingness to vote against their self interest and the interest of this nation by (re)electing them to public office, indicates that many, perhaps even a majority of citizens, are unaware, or apathetic, or untroubled by injustice/immorality, or preoccupied with their consumerism driven lives, and/or easily mislead by those in power. When the President declares proudly that he intends to or has successfully assassinated, without due process, an individual or group in some remote corner of the world while neglecting to mention that civilians were "collaterally" injured/killed as well, not only does his approval rating not suffer, but it significantly increases as Americans celebrate his "accomplishments." [4]

The Political Leaders' Response Criterion: For at least the past 50 years, the ease and frequency with which our political leaders' violated international, domestic, and moral law, as well as their impudence and arrogance in rejecting or ignoring the will of the people is both apparent and appalling. President Lyndon Baines Johnson continued his war of lies and deceit in Vietnam despite protests, civil unrest, and riots that profoundly divided the nation. President Nixon regarded as "enemies" those who opposed his policies. While promising "peace with honor," he ordered the invasion of Cambodia, the bombing of Haiphong, and created an atmosphere of intolerance and paranoia culminating in the slaughter of student protestors at Kent State and Jackson State Universities. Former Vice President Dick Cheney viewed dissent and free speech not as American values and rights guaranteed under the Constitution, but rather as traitorous and as emboldening the "enemy." Demonstrating the intransigence that typified the George W. Bush Presidency, when asked by a journalist about the escalating protests and diminishing support for the Iraq War, Cheney defiantly responded "so what." President Barack Obama shed tears over the tragic deaths of children in Newtown, Connecticut, but remains unmoved by public pleas that he end his policies of targeted assassinations and drone warfare that have killed hundreds of innocent children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere.



A case can be made, perhaps, that in the past, civil disobedience may have contributed to implementing change in this country -- the civil rights movement, ending the war in Vietnam. It may as well have enjoyed a measure of success elsewhere in the world today -- aspects of the Arab spring. But the social and political situation in this country has changed dramatically and the ability of the government to suppress information, influence thinking, and control the populace has never been greater. What Hedges and others overlook in advocating civil disobedience as the only weapon we have remaining is that these changes, this implementation of police state tactics of surveillance, intimidation, and control negatively impact upon the effectiveness of all the weapons in the activist's arsenal whether it be petitioning, demonstrating, letter writing, parading with signs, etc., or Public CD. Even should the truly unlikely occur and civil disobedience become so widespread as not to be ignored, even should members of the police and military refuse to "enforce the law," to use violence against the civil disobedients, change is not assured as the praetorian guard of the ruling and corporate elite, the private contractors/mercenaries, will quickly fill the void and use whatever means necessary to restore "order."

Despite the bleak picture I paint, I am advocating neither non-action -- apathy and indifference -- nor violent revolution. Certainly, activists must continue to express their points of view, even though the corporate media will choose to ignore them. Activists must continue to demonstrate, petition their representatives, and make speeches condemning injustice even though the police will attempt to stifle their voices. Activists should continue to violate the law if accepting personal risks of severe reprisals from an NDAA-empowered presidency remains a personal moral obligation in response to immorality and injustice. Sometimes we must overcome frustration and do things not because we are certain of achieving the desired ends (and here I betray my deontological leanings), but because it is right.

Despite the lack of progress and my skepticism regarding the effectiveness of Public CD, I am not without hope. I am convinced that there is yet another powerful and time-tested weapon in the arsenal of those who struggle against injustice. That weapon is education. As activists for social change, we must gain access to our schools and dialogue with students to counter the copious lies and misinformation promulgated by our political leaders and the corporate media. Activists must become teachers and teachers activists. We must make clear to young minds that there is objective truth regarding law, morality, and our nation's behavior in the world, and that the injustices and immoralities -- the wars, occupations, torture, assassinations, exploitation, greed, inequality, etc. -- are real and not merely the consequence of differences in interpretation, ideology, or perspective. We must inform students that despite what they've been told, such laws, policies, and behaviors are neither in our nation's interest nor legally or morally acceptable whether practiced by our "enemies" or by us and/or our allies. We must instill in them a sense of responsibility for the policies and actions of our political leaders, for how they govern, and for the effect such policies and laws have on human beings and the environment. We must motivate young people to become socially and politically engaged, to speak out, make demands upon their elected officials and not be satisfied with or mislead by deceptive rhetoric and further lies. I am realist enough to recognize the difficulty of what I propose and the hurdles to be negotiated and overcome. Surely, change will not come quickly nor will those who benefit from the status quo, from injustice, sit idly by and watch their power diminish. So we must be patient, courageous, imaginative, and resilient. History has taught us that violence begets violence and education creates an enlightened, aware, and motivated citizenry that is revolutionary. So I remain optimistic, motivated by my sense of right and by the somber realization that if we are beyond even this, if opening the minds of the youth to truth and justice is no longer possible, then this nation, perhaps even our species, is truly at the edge of extinction.

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[1]   Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham City Jail, click here

[2] Dave Gorczynski, a member of Occupy Easton (Pennsylvania), was arrested recently and charged with Attempted Bank Robbery and Terroristic Threatening, both felonies, and one misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. According to a spokesperson for Occupy Easton, Gorczynski "was at the bank protesting the theft of our tax dollars, our homes, and our economy by the criminal banksters." The District attorney has subsequently dropped the attempted bank robbery charge but the Disorderly Conduct and Terrorist Threatening charge remain.

[3] Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, United Nations Weapons Inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, to name but a few.

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[4] According to a February 2012 Washington Post-ABC poll, 83% of Americans support the Obama Administration's use of unmanned drones.

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Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a long-time activist for peace and justice, a (more...)

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Civil disobedience is just one of the 198+ tactics... by Paul Roden on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:25:37 AM
Please dont buy into that nonsence by Chris Hedges... by Ted Newcomen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:32:30 AM
they'd have had some effect by now.(At least there... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:55:26 AM
Jill Glad I'm not the only one who realises demon... by Ted Newcomen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:37:18 AM
...though yeah, I can just see all the stockbroker... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 12:41:43 PM
It's amazing how often I forget. When I forget, I ... by Rob Kall on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 10:25:00 AM
... who are living entirely in the mass-media... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:36:30 AM
Does anyone seriously believe that the 1% gives a ... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 10:40:52 AM
It is true that demonstrations have had little or ... by Rod Rylander on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:28:27 AM
Yes - we have more power as consumers than we do a... by Ted Newcomen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:41:48 AM
The problem with boycotts is that the pro-plutocra... by Andrew Rogers on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 1:04:41 PM
Andrew, I have read your ideas and will try to wea... by Gary Brumback on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 3:08:03 PM
Three options:General Strike, Boycotts & Monke... by mrk * on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 11:53:53 AM
"I believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlig... by mrk * on Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 10:07:09 AM
Don't pay for it! Withholding taxes is one way to ... by molly cruz on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 12:10:19 PM
This author nails it! Educating and informing our ... by Andrew Rogers on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 1:09:18 PM
If you vote for a Democrat or a Republican you are... by Patricia Gray on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 1:24:04 PM
the levers of power. The fact is we keep re-elect... by Ralph Lopez on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 1:47:09 PM
The fact is, we have no idea if the "winners" won ... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 2:33:20 PM
I totally agree w/ it but would incorporate your f... by Gary Brumback on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 3:11:52 PM
Very perceptive analysis! The idea that CD is ... by Daniel Noel on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 5:17:05 PM
Education is arguably a more promising avenue tha... by Daniel Noel on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 5:21:41 PM
The only thing stopping anyone from mounting this ... by R. A. Landbeck on Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 7:20:42 AM
What's the elevator pitch version of your idea. Th... by Rob Kall on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 10:39:13 AM
There are only a few points at which non-cooperati... by Jon Roland on Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 8:38:21 AM
Demonstrations may look grassroots, but they're re... by Rob Kall on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 1:15:51 PM
Rob You're not wrong there about the illusion of ... by Ted Newcomen on Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 7:10:42 AM
We need training and discipline to carry out any f... by Paul Roden on Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 4:26:56 PM