Is Civil Disobedience Acceptable?
Recently, some idiot blew up a bomb in front of a Times Square recruiting office. Apparently, it was intended as a form of protest of the Iraq War, and the people responsible have proudly sent a letter to several Congressmen taking credit for the bombing.
If this attack was intended as a violent start to the revolution, it was a miserable failure, as no one (thankfully) was injured. If it was intended as a nonviolent statement, then it was a stunning error of judgment—I have never personally been to Times Square, but I doubt that there is ever a time that Times Square is not crowded. Someone could very easily have been hurt, and that is one thing that should be avoided in an anti-war protest.
This sort of event is becoming more common. In Berkley, a group of slightly more law-abiding protesters, led by Code Pink, are attempting to pass an ordinance banning a Marine recruiting station. The reasoning, which is somewhat complicated, is that Code Pink supports the military, but not the war, so they are attempting to stop the military from recruiting in the Berkley area. Except that not all Marines are in Iraq (we have over 75,000 soldiers in Germany), and keeping the Marines from recruiting in Berkley will just overextend the military.
When they are not trying to blow up or shut down recruiting centers, many anti-war protesters engage in mass civil disobedience. These folks typically form a crowd and cause mass disruption. For example, a pair of protesters who evidently didn’t get the memo about Code Pink’s attempted shutdown of the Berkley Marine recruiting center handcuffed themselves to the building.
This kind of thing is quite common, although it is not always so spectacular. Usually, the protesters just march around and block streets or public areas, while doing their best to upset any bystanders. In one case, a group of Daily Kos netroots planned a protest inside a bookstore featuring a book signing by Mark Levin. The plan was for the Daily Kos group to wear Nazi regalia to show Levin’s fascism (talk about the pot calling the kettle black), and to chant slogans and disrupt the event. The book signing was cancelled. (Levin’s book, by the way, was about dogs, not politics). This type of protest is frequent—certainly not everyday events, but are certainly not isolated incidents.
What is disturbing is not so much the frequency of these actions (really, what do you expect from the Daily Kos?), but the way people accept these protests as justifiable. The media rarely paints these protesters in anything but a positive light. This is unfortunate, because most “non-violent” protesters do not deserve the respect the media gives them.
Think about it. If a group feels strongly about the war in Iraq, do they have the right to disrupt the lives of other people? When an anti-war group employs mass civil disobedience, by what right do they release themselves from the laws that govern us? Are their causes so worthy that we are free from the rules governing everyone else?
Some people would respond in the affirmative, that a truly important cause can be grounds for civil disobedience. Fine, but imagine a thought experiment. If a group of segregationists planned a mass non-violent sit-in, for example, causing massive inconvenience to other people, could anyone argue that that is perfectly tolerable? Probably not, yet that is exactly what many anti-war protesters do. The only difference is that their cause contains many more sympathizers.
Is mass civil disobedience ever justified? In my mind, it is sometimes justifiable, but only very, very rarely. The law broken must be unjust, and act of disobedience should not harm others. Virtually all of the “non-violent” resistance does not fulfill these criteria—the act of disobedience either harms others (for example, the Mark Levin episode, which lost Levin a significant amount of money), or breaks a perfectly just law (as seen in the Berkley handcuff episode). Those who engage in civil disobedience do not deserve respect. On the contrary, they deserve (with rare exceptions) the contempt of all law-abiding people.