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Civil Disobedience in an age of illegality

classwarRecently, some pretty responsible cultural critics have been suggesting that attempts to create social and political change in this country must move from the traditional channels of legal petitioning and protesting to illegal civil disobedience.

“The phrase consent of the governed has been turned into a cruel joke. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. Civil disobedience is the only tool we have left.” --Chris Hedges

“Our last hope is to generate a democratic awakening among our fellow citizens. This means raising our voices, very loud and strong, bearing witness, individually and collectively. Tavis [Smiley] and I have talked about ways of civil disobedience, beginning with ways for both of us to get arrested…” --Dr. Cornel West

First of all, such awakening of the somnolent masses requires a great many voices and an even greater number of listeners. During the civil rights marches, a small number of courageous, dedicated people were, thanks to the national press, able to capture the conscience of the nation and even able to force our national leaders to reluctantly take action. The same can be said of the protests that finally helped end the Vietnam War.

Today, I despair of ever rousing more than a small percentage of our infotainment besotted citizens. Most Americans are dumb as Fox’s viewers as to the causes of their disenfranchisement. They would rather take their frustrations out on spouses and their children than ever awakening and raising a voice—even in protest. Pry the remotes only from their cold, dead hands.

In the past, I have supported and been involved in civil disobedience. That was when we still had laws that protected law breakers—even principled law breakers. I would never involve myself in any public activity that would risk arrest or even temporary incarceration. To do so would be to invite violence and criminality on the part of law enforcement agents, many of whom no longer use violence as an exception. This goes double when the canard of Fatherland Security is trotted out, as it is in so many cases relating to political dissent. So where does that leave us? To quote one notorious fire-breathing radical,

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.”  -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

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