Anyone who knows anything about me, probably knows I’m intently watching the happenings in Ferguson Missouri, and if I were 15, 20 years younger, I might be there, but maybe not. Having participated, led, and been arrested in numerous, of what I call “civil disobedient actions” I know a little – well a lot about what goes into organizing an action and the purpose of civil disobedience. That is why I feel compelled to blog about Civil Disobedience.
The media uses many terms such as; “protest”, “demonstration” and “civil disobedience” as if they were all interchangeable words with the same meaning. Civil disobedience has to do with citizen’s relationship with the State and its’ laws. Civil disobedience is unique in that it publically and intentionally defies a law and/or its authorities (police, national guard) to draw attention to a greater injustice. You can have a protest or demonstration without civil disobedience. In other words, in a demonstration that does not implore Civil Disobedience tactics, the police tells the protesters where to march, how long they can march, and not to put one toe on a blade of grass or else they will be subject to arrest. Protesters hold signs, chant, sing, obey police orders, make their statement, and go home. Demonstrators obey authorities, but in civil disobedience certain “asks” by authorities are ignored or purposefully and respectfully disobeyed, but ALL other laws are followed. What things will be disobeyed is decided beforehand, things such as not moving when ordered by authorities. Once arrested, whether to cooperate by walking to paddy wagon, giving name, walking to arraignment, etc, or doing one, or none of these are also decided beforehand, but can be negotiated with police by the leader during the civil disobedience. Everyone knows the words from the leader if pre-planned things have changed and follows the changes.
Civil disobedience is a serious tactic and should never be entered into without an organized plan, layers of leadership positions, clear demands with attainable objectives, and training for those individuals risking arrest. When civil disobedience is used, solidarity has to be in order, or else it will fall into chaos. Solidarity is where everyone commits to do the same thing and help one another if there should be trouble.
Leadership is crucial. Individuals in those positions need to be level headed, passionate but not prone to anger, understand the cause and its’ current demands for the situation and the area. Be able to designate a negotiator, who is congenial, to speak to police. Everyone knows to look to that one leader for orders during the demonstration. If that leader is picked off by police, there is a pre-planned hierarchy of leaders 10 or so deep, depending on the number of people involved. There’s only one leader at a time, but every protester knows the hierarchy, so as leaders get picked off, every protester knows the next in line. Comical story, in Texas I was the leader of the women once in jail because men and women are separated of course. There were 20 women and I was explaining what we would do. First, the reader needs to visualized this, I was the only disabled person there, a significant disability at that, and with a speech impairment. Well, these jail guards were so dumbfounded that these women were deferring to me. Then they started to try to appease to these women protesters pride and power by saying, why are you listening to her!? Of course, there were no strayers because of the principles of solidarity. We had a good laugh after at people in authority’s reaction to someone like me giving orders, and that people were actually obeying someone who’s weak by the world’s standards.
When setting up leadership, there has to be an outside team. An outside team is those individuals not risking arrest, but who are organized and trained beforehand to support those who are arrested and jailed. The outside team has everyone’s ID, medications, medical history and sets up lawyers and anything else the inside team might need.
Training is crucial when imploring civil disobedience tactics, especially for those willing to risk arrest – and I would say even more important now that our police are becoming more militarized (the militarization of police is a blog for another day). Good people usually are not defiant against authority, so even that takes some training to ignore police orders and to point the police to the leader that you will obey. If one is engaging non-violent civil disobedience which is the only form of civil disobedience I’ve engaged in, it’s important to learn non-violent stances when risking arrest. Sitting, crawling, rolling on the ground, head bowed, hands open and in plain sight, and nothing in pockets. When I say nothing in pockets I mean nothing identifying that individual, or that could be mistaken as a potential weapon, no ID, no meds, no toothpicks. Maybe some crackers or other packaged food but that’s it! It is equally important that people who are engaging in non-violent civil disobedience understand that just because they are truly non-violent, doesn’t mean the police will react with non-violent measures. Individuals have to be trained physically, and mentally prepared not to react to police brutality with normal forms of self-protection such as; kicking, hitting, scratching, spitting or biting. But one can curl-up in a fetal position holding arms and legs over head and chest to protect vital organs. Also fellow protesters who are sitting close to someone being brutalized are trained to throw their body over that person to absorb some of the blows.
How does one mentally prepare to stand for something where there’s potential for loss of freedom (jailed), physical pain, and yes, even the possibility of death. In my opinion, this is not something that can be, nor should be, trained or taught, lest you risk the possibility, either in reality or by appearance, of brainwashing people. Mentally, to risk the above hardships, one has to not just already know of the systemic injustice, but feel it in such a way that it burns his gut because all his prior attempts to bring light to, and set the injustice right, had gone nowhere! This gut pain should not be one of anger, for anger is in its’ infancy and is prone to unpredictable behavior. It has to be a mature pain of injustice, not a self-serving injustice, but a true sense of pain that other fellow human beings are living in! One has to feel it, but in my opinion this comes from a higher Power than oneself. For self preservation is human nature, but the preservation of others to the point of injury or death, comes from a higher place within.
Now that I’ve covered what civil disobedience entails, my next blog will discuss the happenings in Ferguson Missouri.