Having seen over the years protesters engaged in voicing their grievances in fashions ranging from the peaceful to the violent, I believe it is incumbent to provide a guidelines in the hope of furthering a cause without the distractions that spill over into not only silencing important messages but preventing consequences that hurt others.
I propose the idea of Honorable Civil Disobedience.
I must first state that these guidelines do not constitute legal advice or the need to foster discord. Such actions might result in arrest or civil implications. And while I do not encourage law breaking, for those who choose to engage in this strategy there are ways to go about such acts to minimize its negative effects. Every individual should gauge the cost-benefit of their own actions and the wider costs that can lead to others behaving badly.
What is noteworthy is that history shows more often than not that those who refuse to engage in violence or property damage succeed in establishing a legacy that associates their names with social movements having a positive change. Well known figures such as Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Thoreau, and Gandhi are some of the most memorable and effective. Those who choose to engage in civil disobedience should follow an honor code to be effective.
Here are just a few of such examples.
It is important to recognize that the police are not the enemy of the cause. They are merely civil servants and generally do not make policy. The police who are assigned to the area of a demonstration are there to secure the peace and most always simply want to do their jobs and go home. They should be given a measure of respect, else they are likely to react unfavorably to everyone’s position.
There are those who in the furtherance of the visibility of their grievance choose to be arrested, typically for minor offenses such as trespass. This not only draws the attention of the media but conveys that their grievance is of such importance to them, they are willing to sacrifice a degree of freedom as a gesture in conveying their resolve.
The sit-in is a classic example of this. The sit-in is designed to result in a minor disruption of the target of the protest. Police will declare a protest to be unlawful and issue a warning of impending arrest to those who do not vacate a premises.
Active resistance to the police in a sit is not Honorable: that is, struggling in resisting arrest and engaging in tumultuous behavior. Again, the police do not set policy and are not the enemy. It is better if one chooses a course of action that will lead to an arrest to not fight the police or members of the public. Instead some suggestions I propose to foster Honorable Civil Disobedience are as follows:
- Stand up and submit to the arrest. Allow the cameras to photograph the event for the news. Your credibility before your intended audience will elicit more sympathy or identification with you and your message.
- The police will follow procedures that require all arrestees to be handcuffed. Passive suspects will be cuffed in a manner that is less uncomfortable. Otherwise, the cuffs might not be double-locked and could result in tightening of the cuffs. This can be painful. Further, even more restrictive security measures might be enforced against you.
- Bring only what is necessary to identify you during the issuance of a citation or a custodial arrest and in the latter case, a nominal amount of cash to arrange for bail or pay a fine if that is your intent. Do not bring weapons or contraband to the protest. This can result in additional charges that are outside the minimum level to get your message across, without distractions.
- Do not voice contempt for the police by yelling, screaming, or playing the victim.
- Do not shout profanity or encourage others to commit violence.
- If you are passive in the arrest, you might have the opportunity to talk with reporters on your way to a jail van or patrol car. Being troublesome results in a quick march away from the scene and you will be blamed for causing your own arrest due to your dishonorable actions.
- If a custodial mass arrest happens. Your group might be in and out of jail faster if you act Honorable. If you face a judge, what would you rather experience; a judge who views your actions simply as a benign act of civil disobedience or being labeled as the cause of a riot that caused damage and breech of the peace? In the former you might receive a token fine. The latter can lead to significant penalties levied by judge wanting to send strong rebuke that results in long period of incarceration and punitive fines.
- Bring the minimal amount of items with you and be courteous and forthright in the process. This results in a more expeditious booking process and minimizes the time you might spend in custody
- Show respect for those watching the events unfolding. Do not insult them or their intelligence. Focus on the message and do not attach to your demonstration unrelated matters that tend to dilute your voice.
- Respect the property rights of nearby homes and businesses. They have nothing to do with your grievances. They do not deserve to pay for damage caused by you. It also ruins your credibility.
- Inform the police of your intended act of civil disobedience so that they can arrange for containing the situation and also protect your right to protest. You will also take some of the edge away from a stressful incident and the police might be actually friendly to you. Remember, such a request also will allow for any emergency services such as fire or ambulance departments to continue their duties unabated. This also affords you with the ability to receive protection against counter-protesters who might not hold the same Code of Honor you possess.
- If you so desire, contact various news outlets of your scheduled protest. State your desire to have a peaceful demonstration and be respectful and clear in informing them of your grievances. Allow them time to organize a team to cover the event. If you act with integrity you will control the message and they will be your messenger.
- Appoint a respectful manager or leader who will act as an agent who represents your demonstration and cause. This will provide for a mechanism to organize the event, news, police services and prevent misunderstandings. You will also foster an image of professionalism.
- Do not demonize the target of your grievance. It is important to offer a way for your opponent to save face if they decide to agree to your demands. If you give them no option to change their behavior they will simply dig in or dismiss you as simply an opportunist who chose them as a convenient target. Keep a door open even if you expect them never to acquiesce to your demands. That way you maintain a higher moral ground and if your Honorable actions win the hearts of your audience, they will look at your opponents with scorn for not listening or trying to change their ways.
- Remember, as the old adage goes, “A man’s name is his reputation”. If you are inclined to peacefully demonstrate or act as a spokesperson in the future in advocating your cause, you will maintain your credibility by adhering to the tenets of Honorable Civil Disobedience.
I found in the below videos there is much to be said in how to properly and Honorably engage in civil disobedience. The actors held true to their message, arranged for reporters to hear grievances, and acted with dignity. They were met with great praise from observers and were very effective in drawing attention to their cause. They are a credit to what they hold dear.
And now for the fruits of Mr. Clooney and others’ Honorable Civil Disobedience. In playing the below video, there will be a link to view the video externally on YouTube. Click the link to view.
As you can see, the demonstrators accomplished receiving national attention to their cause and they were successful in that the media who also brought into their program images of the suffering resident in The Sudan, along with the imperative need to resolve the problems facing that nation. Consequently the demonstrators received a token fine of a hundred dollars and an immediate release from jail. Mr. Clooney left no doubt as to his resolve to sacrifice his freedom. Yet in actuality, he paid a rather small price–all things considered.
Let us now contrast Honorable Civil Disobedience with dishonorable and disruptive behavior by most of the actors shown in the below video.
What was the message the demonstrators were attempting to convey? Who knows. Do they even know? Look at the result: Armed police in riot gear and counter demonstrators fighting against them–a few of whom went so far as to display firearms to address what counter-protesters perceived to be the need to protect themselves from violence. Ordinary townspeople wanted the protesters run out of town and few had any sympathy for the demonstrators or their cause.
Nearly everything the original protesters did worked against their cause and garnered only contempt for them as individuals and their movement collectively. Suffice to say that in the minds of townspeople the protesters “got what they deserved” in being tossed to the ground and thrown in jail. Demonstrators represented an enemy, not kindred to those wanting justice in the world.
From now and surely in the future, every time this protest group shows up in a city to demonstrate, they will be regarded as pariahs unworthy of respect. The idea they conveyed focused on their actions and not their grievance. Nothing good came from their efforts.
So if I may so suggest, act with Honor in all things. Don’t hurt others and don’t become the evil you are advocating against. Take these tenets to heart and change the world for the better.
By Darren Smith
Video Sources: News2Share; Enough Project; The Telegraph; and ABC News
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.