Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
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Non-Violent Civic Resistance

Emeka Okafor at Africa Unchained writes in a post, Realising Regime Change about an article in The Economist (walled off article) concerning the effectiveness of non-violent resistance in effecting regime change. Okafar cites a study of 67 overthrown dictatorships in analysis by Freedom House (Wikipedia) showing that non-violent resistance:
[B]road-based, non-violent civic resistance—which employs tactics such as boycotts, mass protests, blockades, strikes and civil disobedience to delegitimate authoritarian rulers and erode their sources of support, including the loyalty of armed defenders.
can be decisive.

I'm something of a coward. Living in a country where I'm generally allowed to speak out, I too often don't when I ought. Yet I'm am gravely concerned about the erosion of American civil liberties.

When I read Africa Unchained today, my thoughts turned immediately to the lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960's. Often non-violent strategies are considered wimpy affairs. But take a look at this picture, or go to Voices of Civil Rights to look at a few more pictures. I see courage in the women at the counter. My learned construct of masculinity makes it harder to see in that man sitting at the counter. Putting myself in his shoes for a moment, I imagine either loosing my temper and failing about against the mob, or deep feelings of shame. It's only then, after imagining myself at that stool, I begin to grasp the courage he showed.

What did they pour on them: ketchup, syrup, milk, ice water? How truly frightened they must have been and how courageous not to demonstate their fear but rather courage.

Among the magazines my father has subscribed to for as long as I can remember are Time and Business Week. For many years, including during the 1980's, Paul Craig Roberts wrote for the Economic Viewpoint column in Business Week. Generally I found those pieces infuriating! Strangely, Roberts has been a frequent critic of the presidency of George W. Bush. In a recent column posted at, Unfathomed Dangers in PATRIOT Act Reauthorization he wrote:
[R]ead House Report 109-333 USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and check it out for yourself. Sec. 605 reads:

"There is hereby created and established a permanent police force, to be known as the 'United States Secret Service Uniformed Division.'"

This new federal police force is "subject to the supervision of the Secretary of Homeland Security."
Robert's raises concerns about the formation of this new federal police force, "The language conveys enormous discretionary and arbitrary powers." Anyone who has attended any event where president Bush or vice president Cheney spoke, knows already citizen rights for speach and assembly have been drastically curtailed. I'm not a lawyer, and I'm well aware that the ability of the president to designate American citizens as "Enemy Combatants" and thereby not subject to protection of the law is unsettled law in the courts. Nevertheless, the language for commission of a new federal police force seems hardly reassuring that our liberty subject to the rule of law will be protected.

One of the depressing conclusions from my lackluster study of history is that tyrannies are rather durable. So I'm both encouraged and discouraged by Mahatma Gandhi's observation: "Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary." I'm impatient.

John F. Kennedy remarked: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." I agree, but hasten to say I deplore violence! What really interests me is finding ways to prevent violence.

Here in America we are accustomed to hearing about such measures as the PATRIOT Act, illegal searches and wiretaps, and this formation of a new federal police force, referred to as "tools against terrorism." "Tools" sound useful and good, and they are for the most part; except, I look at some of my screw drivers, some of them are in very poor shape. They didn't get that way from turning screws, but by my using them for prying, scraping, puncturing, and even for hammering.

Repression of our rights to be secure in our home and effects, to freely assemble, and to be free to speak will lead to repression more broadly. Godwin's Law holds:
As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
The tradition holds that whoever mentions the Nazi's has lost the argument. But when Roberts wrote:
The Brownshirts are now arming themselves with a Gestapo.
a chill ran down my spine.

I don't know those people pictured in the photograph, but they look familiar to me; those three at the Woolworth's counter and the mob assembled behind them. A federal police under the command of the Executive unrestrained by law will surely lead to more violence and terroristic practices here at home. It's important for Americans who believe in civil rights, who stand firmly in favor of human rights to find ways to courageously speak out and to win this argument.

Now Americans of any color can sit and be served in public establishments across the land. The sit-ins were effective because even with the constant blame on "outside agaitators" the people sitting there were never believably "outsiders." Non-violent resistance was essential for Americans to see our common heritage. Non-violent resistance revealed a contradiction in our values and behavior.

Tomorrow I will have dinner with a couple, who nice as they are, and they are really nice, hold views embracing religio-political authoritarianism. It's uncomfortable for me; my tongue often hurts from biting it. No "Nazi" or "Brownshirt" will be spit out, I promise. Still, I hope for courage and wisdom to speak in a ways that favor civil rights when we talk.

What we do here is felt elsewhere. All over the globe human rights are violated. All over the globe corruption destroys institutions necessary for justice and development. Many disparage others in other countries but will not speak out about the abuses and corruption in our own country. But when we do, we stand with millions around the globe; we stand for people power. May I have the courage to stand with peaceful purpose.

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