The concern that Robert Mueller will be fired is growing, and with that is a commitment by thousands to hit the streets. (If you agree with the protest and want to join in, be sure to check out this link ). Even if he doesn’t get fired, we might want to protest the passing of the fraud they are calling a tax bill. That got me to thinking – we must be thoughtful about how we conduct our protests. These protests have to count. They have to be worth the time and energy we put into them.
I read an article some time ago, in which someone had researched protests. The findings were fascinating. The research showed that a government can’t withstand the sustained protest of 3.5% of a nation’s population. By my calculations, that is roughly 14 million Americans. But the key word is sustained. If we are going to have a successful protest, we have to stay in the streets until the menace is gone. It is also imperative that our protest be peaceful. Many municipalities will call on police to disrupt the protests. It is not inconceivable that some will call out the National Guard. We must not react with violence. We can be loud, but we cannot be violent. Sit down, stand up, walk, whatever, but do not react with violence. (I plan to take my rosary, and say the rosary if the police get rough.) If they set up lines and try to move us away, we must go around behind them and continue the protest. If they use tear gas, we must put on masks and stay. We must show that we are more determined in our cause than they are in theirs.
Police have been taking protesters in to the station even when protesting peacefully. If they do that, be sure to have evidence that you were being peaceful, that the police were violating your right to assembly. Especially if you get arrested. Once you are arrested, they may try to get you to plead guilty to a lesser charge so you can be let go. DO NOT ACCEPT LESSER CHARGES! This is important for three reasons. First, it becomes an acknowledgment that what you were doing is unlawful. What you are doing is not unlawful. It is lawful and right and proper. It is what citizens are called upon to do when the government is acting badly. Second, it allows them to avoid accounting for their violation of your right to protest. Force them to make their case in court (and make sure it gets wide news coverage). Make them hear your case. Third, when you plead guilty to a lesser charge, many jurisdictions will use that guilty plea to make you ineligible to vote. This plays into their hands. Don’t give away your right to vote for convenience.
Several years ago, I got to thinking about Civil Disobedience more deeply, and I realized I needed to establish for myself and my family a set of rules to govern the right to disapprove of what our government was doing loudly, in a way the government could not ignore. This is what I came up with. If you have thoughts about these rules, please comment.
Rule 1: To perform effective Civil Disobedience, you have to live an otherwise normal life. You must be a reasonably productive, law-abiding and basically good citizen. You cannot let the authorities dilute your protest by calling you a rabble rouser, a vagrant, a miscreant or anything of that nature. Your disobedience must be a clear break from your normal behavior. You also cannot be a person who, when you bring forth a moral cause, has tables turned on you because of your own questionable character. However, in this case, I think this requirement can be waived. In the current situation, citizens of all stripes can contribute to the protest. All citizens are affected by what is going on, all need to cry out now.
Rule 2: You must pick your battles wisely. You must be sure that the object of your disobedience is contrary to the very fiber of your moral being. You cannot engage in honorable Civil Disobedience against, for example, a traffic ticket, a silly homeowner’s association rule, or a loaf of moldy bread. You must feel so strongly about your issue that you are prepared to accept any consequences of your action to make a major statement about it. This is part of not becoming known as a trouble maker. It is not effective when your arrest is simply another eye roll to wit, “there he goes again.” I think these issues are wise selections of battles.
Rule 3: You must be prepared to take full consequence for your behavior (see above). You must not allow it to be plea-bargained down, trivialized, or watered down. You must make it glaringly clear that what you are protesting is meaningful to you to the point that you are prepared to sacrifice to get it changed.
Rule 4: You must be very clear about what it is you are protesting, what you want changed and how you want it to wind up. During the Viet Nam war, the most effective conscientious objectors actually did time in jail rather than fight in an immoral war. They did not allow their legal representatives to water down the charges. They stood firm in what they did, repeated what they did in strong voices and faced the full extent of the law about it. The same with the Civil Rights marches. They took blows to their bodies, were locked up, and some died. But they were committed.
Rule 5: You must ensure that word of your actions gets to the world at large. You must be sure your voice, your own voice, is heard by a wide audience. You must be very clear, when you are heard, of what you believe and why you believe obeying whatever law you are protesting is immoral and you cannot support it.
Rule 6: You must have a dog in the fight. You cannot let the courts find your objections moot because you are not affected by whatever it is you are protesting. When we had a draft, women could not be considered conscientious objectors because they could not be drafted. However, they could be objectors when it was a family member who was being sent to war. (To be sure, women could and did protest, but the official recognition of conscientious objector status was not conferred on women. I know. I tried.) You must decide how it is that you have a dog in the fight and that that dog is precious to you. When it comes to war, I think it is enough to say that your government is fighting in your name and you condemn the reason for it. But you must feel it is immoral enough to sacrifice for.
When we feel strongly enough to engage in Civil Disobedience, it is not just a right, but it is an obligation. We, as Americans, are the foundation of our government. It is up to us to make our government behave morally and democratically. Our government is us. What it does is done in our names. All of us. We cannot turn away.
Back in the 60s Civil Disobedience took the form of sit-ins and marches. While that did cause the establishment to look at the protestors as trouble makers, eventually the protesters won. Same with Ghandi. And Martin Luther King and John Lewis. Effective Civil Disobedience. We must win too. We must stay out there and protest until things are made right. Our lives, our futures, the futures of our children depend on it.