Civil Disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power…Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system of a whole.
(Please consider helping newly arriving refugees to America, they have lost everything, came with nothing, need everything. It is inexpensive and simple and meaningful.) And they are frightened.)
I am not an especially religious person, not in the conventional sense, or a political one. I became a Quaker when I was 14, I re-affirmed that faith in my 30's, when I had a child, and it remains the faith closest to my values and beliefs. Quakerism has a long history of civil disobedience, – to war, to slavery, in particular.
Quakers have often withheld taxes, refused to kill, supported Native-Americans in violation of laws.
I have never seriously considered civil disobedience until this week, until today, really, when our new President announced his plans today to hire thousands of officers to deport undocumented immigrants, greatly expand deportation, hire thousands of border police, build a vast wall across the Mexican border, restrict or ban immigrants from countries that are predominantly Muslim, halt immigration entirely for a period of time and then, drastically reduce it.
Shame on me, I never thought I would hear an American President utter those words, or see millions of Americans cheer them.
Honestly, I believed these were things he promised in order to win, but were not things he could or would actually do. It seemed unimaginable to me that any American government would do these things. They may, in fact – I can only pray – not be things he can actually do.
I will have to wait and see.
While so many Americans worry about their health care, or live in poverty, or suffer from violence, or seek meaningful work, or struggle to feed their families, it troubles my conscience to divert so many resources to sealing our country off from the world, from our neighbor, terrorizing innocent families, and denying refuge to so many people in dire need.
That is central to my idea of America, and as the President completely halts the immigration of Syrian refugees – he says he won't accept a single woman, elderly person, casualty from that devastated place, not one child or loving father – all of whom are suffering so terribly in their endless civil war, then my conscience is calling out to me to act.
How can I act? Nonviolently.
I can protest and march, I can call members of Congress, block traffic, stop legislators from meeting, I can support refugee families that are here, lawsuits against these wrenching decisions, I could withhold a percentage of my taxes or refuse to pay them.
I don't claim the government has no right to do this. Or that the President is not the President. And I understand that millions of people fully embrace these ideas and proposals.
The President was legitimately elected, and is doing what he said he would do, and what he was elected, in part, to do. He has enormous support from many members of Congress, who were also elected.
Like so many before me, I am feeling voiceless and disconnected from my own country, it's core values are no longer mine, or perhaps they really are mine. I'm not sure at the moment. My government is certainly not speaking to me or for me.
I intend to return to Quaker Meeting and seek some guidance – "clearance," they call it. And to think and read on it, I need to know more. I need to take a lot of walks in the woods. It is time to show up.
The idea that I would in any way enable the tearing of blameless children from their mothers, and brothers from sisters, and sons from fathers, is not, I think, something I can live with when I look in the mirror each morning. I can't abide snuffing out the lights in Liberty's Statue, a beacon and comfort to all of the world.
The brilliant moral philosopher Hannah Arendt writes that moral conduct is the intercourse of man with himself.
The moral man puts himself ahead of duties to others, and obeys his own conscience first. It is not a matter of concern with the other but with the self, not of meekness but of human dignity and even human pride. The standard is neither the love of some neighbor nor self-love, but self-respect.
It is not about what people say on Twitter or Facebook, it is about what I say to myself in the sanctity of my own soul.
"Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe," wrote Immanuel Kant, "the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me." I have to live with myself before I can live with anyone, or be of use to anyone.
When I heard this news today, my heart sank. I hated to lose the feeling of exhilaration I had about the torrent of gifts pouring into the volunteer refugee center in Albany.
I walked in the woods with the dogs and my heart kept telling me, "no, you cannot support this, you have to try to stop it." I cannot turn away from this and keep my self-respect.
I did not go to Standing Rock, but I empathize with the people who did. I think they are the model, they are my future in some ways.
There is a rich history of civil disobedience in democracies. Martin Luther King said that one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. Aristotle said it is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen. Thoreau said if a law requires you to support or be an agent of an unjust law, then break the law. An unjust law, said Gandhi, is itself a species of violence.
An individual who breaks the law if his conscience tells him it is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment or fine in order to arouse the conscience of the community over an injustice, is, in my belief, expressing the utmost respect for the law.
And if I decide to pursue an act of nonviolent conscience that defies an unjust law, then I will, of course, accept the appropriate punishment. I am not asking anyone to join me, or telling anyone else what their own consciences should accept.
I have to think about this, and long and hard. I am not, as always, interested in arguing or defending my beliefs. I will not be discussing this on Facebook. It does not involve Maria.
When you consider civil disobedience, wrote Thoreau, "take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary."
Done and done.
Thoreau has always inspired me, and I think people who dismiss me and others like me, or who fail to take them into account, are foolish.
"I was not born to be forced," Thoreau said, "I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest."
Our President is a quixotic person, at best. He says things one day, and forgets or retracts or denies them or disowns them the next. It is my strong hope that these things he wishes to do will not come to pass, I love my life and have worked hard to have it and have no wish to disrupt it. Joseph Campbell says when you get older, it is a peaceful time to ponder and reflect. Not yet, I think.
As I move through this decision, I will be happy to share it. And hope every day that it never comes to pass.