Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Civil Disobedience

Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, 1849.
We can either accept the government that we have or take steps to change that government into what we want.
But that’s harder than it looks. Or sounds. Or best testing indicates.
Casey Neistat did a little bit of what I mean, in making this video showing why at times it’s impossible or hazardous to stay in New York City’s bike lanes. He got a $50 ticket for wandering out of the lane. But was safer doing so.
So what can we do, with a government that closes the open-air monuments on the Mall in Washington to tourists, but allows pro-immigration protesters access to that same Mall during the same week?
We do what would-be visitors to the World War II memorial on the Mall did: We cross the barricades. We demonstrate, as does Mr. Neistat, the danger of being too literal in obeying a law when there are others around who do not.
There are folks jumping the fences and barricades at national parks. Some, I’m sure, for the thrill of it. And some, of course, out of desire to be civilly disobedient. Utah’s San Juan County, for one, is rumbling about taking on duties of letting people use the national parks in its borders, as a demonstration of a local government being civilly disobedient.
I, for one, think that’s a fantastic idea.
What am I doing?
And that’s sad. Because those who do nothing have the government they deserve.
Oh, I’ve got plans. If I get furloughed on Monday, my plan is to hang out at Rep. Mike Simpson’s shuttered office in Idaho Falls until somebody notices.
“I think we should be men first, and subjects afterward,” says Henry David Thoreau in Civil Disobedience. “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”
He goes on:
Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
The remedy right now is worse than the evil. Yes, evil is in the eye of the beholder, but Thoreau points to anticipating and providing for reform as more desirable than scoring political points and remaining inflexible.
A good compromise shows, they say, when both parties go away from the agreement disappointed in what they did not get but glad for what they got. Compromise shouldn’t come in name-calling, weak-ass analogies (President Obama, this is not leadership, it’s schoolyard name-calling), locking US citizens and foreign nationals in a hotel to prevent them from “recreating” at Yellowstone National Park, and other excuses for not doing anything because to give in to the other side would be perceived as weakness.
Face it, Feds, you all look bad already. Congress has an approval rating of 5 percent, without anyone giving a cuss for what party those Congressmen belong to.
So here’s to seeing what Thursday brings.

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