Thursday, December 16, 2004

Civil Disobedience

There is a tradition in this country of civil disobedience.

And it started in Boston on this date. In 1773, Colonial patriots willfully disregarded the laws of personal property as a protestation to the monopoly granted to the East India Company.

The event became known forever more as the Boston Tea Party.

Earlier in the year in 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which gave the English East India Company a chance to avert bankruptcy by granting a monopoly on the importation of tea into the colonies. The new regulations allowed the company to sell tea to the colonists at a low price, lower than the price of smuggled tea, even including the required duty. The British reasoned that the Americans would willingly pay the tax if they were able to pay a low price for the tea.

They were wrong.

In the evening of the 16th, the ship owner reported his inability to depart from Boston to the throng at Old South. With that news, Samuel Adams gave a signal to the group and loud Indian war whoops broke out. A group of some 50 men, unconvincingly disguised as Mohawk Indians, moved the short distance to Griffin’s Wharf where the Dartmouth, the Beaver and the Eleanor were moored. The vessels were boarded, the cargo was taken from the holds, and it was placed on the decks. There 342 chests were split open and thrown into the harbor. A cheering crowd on the dock shouted its approval for the brewing of this “saltwater tea.”

The “Tea Party” was quickly restaged in other port cities in America and tended to polarize the sides in the widening dispute. Patriots and Loyalists became more ardent about their views.

Parliament and the King chafed at the destruction of private property and the deliberate flouting of royal authority. They would soon turn to sterner actions.

But the Revolution against the Monarchies had begun.

Many years later, On December I, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama, Mrs. Rosa Parks felt her feet were too tired for her to stand up for a white man who had boarded after her. The bus driver ordered her to stand up and give her seat to the white man, but she refused.

She was arrested and taken to the courthouse. A young Reverend called Martin Luther King offered the Dexter Avenue Church as a meeting place for that night. Over forty black leaders showed up, and they agreed to boycott the buses on the following Monday and hold a mass meeting Monday night. Recalling Thoreau's words about not cooperating with an evil system, the young reverand thought of the movement as massive "non cooperation".

The word spread, and on Monday morning the Montgomery buses were practically empty except for a few white passengers. Mrs. Parks was convicted that morning of disobeying the city's segregation ordinance and fined ten dollars and court costs. That evening, Dr. King spoke to five thousand people standing outside of the Holt Street Baptist Church.

He concluded his speech, "If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, future historians will say, 'There lived a great people - a black people - who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.' This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility."

The Civil Rights Movement was born.

In Seattle, on December 4, 1999 The World Trade Organization was virtually shut down by an assortment of labor leaders, environmentalist, and justice groups. Talks between ministers at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting ended in failure after countries were unable to agree to an agenda for a new trade round.

And a new, yet undefined movement has been created.

Although Henry David Thoreau never organized a protest, he did "not pay" his taxes because he did not believe in slavery. He did spend one night in jail though, until his Aunt paid up for him. He actively lectured and wrote against slavery, particularly when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850 compelling northern law enforcement officials to capture and return runaway slaves.

By his personal example, Thoreau put into practice the Transcendentalist principles of self-reliance, personal integrity, and spontaneous intuition. About the "uplifting spiritual energy within" he wrote, "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor."

For Thoreau. philosophy was not clever logic or formulating a doctrine, "but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust." He exhorted, "Explore thyself. We must learn to obey the laws of our own being which will never be in opposition to a just government".

Thoreau's great innovation is in the ways he suggested for opposing an unjust government in order to be true to the higher laws of one's own being.

"If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible."

Henry David Thoreau

Its hard to to consider not paying your taxes,

Or having a party with the King's Tea,

Or not giving some white guy your seat just because

He is White and you aren't.

Even as your nation state is

bombing innocent women and children

In a country that we thought was a threat.

Unless they are yours,

It is hard to get excited about mangled limbs,

And blinded eyes,

And 500 pound smart bombs

Dropped in neighborhoods,

When they are on the other side of the World

And the Media chooses to protect our senses

from the truly sanguine scene.

Especially when the rent is due,

And our plate is full.

Like the President says,

"It's hard work"

And in fairness.

It is hard.

Really.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what are you saying here?

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am saying that we may have options that are not civil insurrection , but perhaps civil redirection. OZ

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you saying we should do what then?

9:31 AM  
Blogger OZ said...

we should work to change our course, which is headed towards a dark cliff of corporate control.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm seriously enjoying the hisorical snippets. It's wonderful to be reminded of the power, truth and influence of past speeches, events and ideas.

7:51 AM  

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