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08/02/2002 Archived Entry: "Civil Disobedience"
Yesterday was odd. It was the first time I have participated in hands-on, grassroots nonviolent action for years...and the experience has left me strangely unsettled. I advocate nonviolent resistance as the best vehicle for social change. (See Gene 198 methods of nonviolent action.) But, for some while, I have been just that...an advocate, not an activist, and there is a world of difference. I could claim activism because one of the most respected tactics of nonviolence is to write and educate -- something I do productively -- but it doesn't *feel* like activism. Nothing captures the feeling as much as standing beside people at a protest or negotiating with police who don't want you *there*, who want you to "move on." That's the visceral part of nonviolent resistance, that's its beating heart: people publicly confronting authority and peacefully saying "no."
It is the process that enchanted me years ago when I first read Sharp's "The Politics of Nonviolent Action", the single finest work on the subject. I saw a vision of how society could change without bloodshed, without the irrational lashing out that creates victims; nonviolence offered a peaceful means of change that focused tightly in on correcting the source of injustice. Carl Watner and George H. Smith saw the same thing, which is why we founded The Voluntaryist in our youth.
Nonviolent action still offers that vision. But have I changed? Yesterday my husband and I joined the farmers who are our neighbors in an impromptu protest that blocked traffic in a limited area, in a limited manner. The protest was peaceful, with one farmer bringing his three young children, and popsicles being handed out to those who participated in the 90 degree + bright sunlight. The media coverage was swift, plentiful, and sympathetic. The reaction of the omnipresent police was mixed, from tacit encouragement to threats, depending on the officer on the scene. The government Ministry whom I hold responsible for the injustice is holding an emergency meeting tomorrow (I assume) to discuss the disturbing display of nonviolent resistance that could evolve into widespread civil disobedience. By most measures, the foregoing means that the protest was successful.
So why am I unsettled? Various explanations are possible, including: 1) I have grown too comfortable; 2) I don't agree with everything being said or done; 3) I am experienced enough to understand the dangers of nonviolent resistance; 4) Confrontation is emotionally difficult and being unsettled is natural; 5) It has been a long time.
All or none of these explanations may be true. I suppose I will come to understand what my reaction is and what it means as the protest continues over the coming months, as it is sure to do in one form or another. I'll be there. As much to come to grips with my own attitudes as to change the response of government to a bad situation of its own making. Maybe one of the people I'll meet there will be the younger me of Voluntaryist days.
Like I said, yesterday was odd.