Our speaker on civil disobedience last night was Medea Benjamin, an activist for fair trade and nowadays a leader of Codepink women for peace. She began by reminding us that the majority of the American people are opposed to the war in Iraq and that the Iraquis themselves would like us to leave, and that our elected government is largely ignoring our views on this matter.
She then went on to tell us very entertainingly of her adventures in making mischief for peace.
The Chemist, The Librarian, a friend of The Librarian’s who had just been at a demonstration against Karl Rove, and I enjoyed the lecture. There was an hour’s break for supper and then a workshop on “How to Go to Jail.”
We strolled over to the local Greek restaurant and had gyros and Greek Salads and a lively debate on why, if we opponents of the war are the majority, we are unable to make much headway with the government.
One said that we were making headway, and that Mr. Bush is simply caught in a psychotic episode that doesn’t allow him to admit to the horrible thing that he has done. Another said the general refusal to vote or even to keep informed of events is the problem. I reported my mother’s belief that the right wing is willing to do the boring slog, while the left wing will only do the fun stuff. We considered whether pestering people was really an effective way to accomplish political objectives.
Then we returned for the workshop (sans the friend who had been at the Rove demonstration). There Benjamin led us in planning a sit-in in our Senator’s office.
She is a professional rabble-rouser, and has been arrested all over the world, and did a very good job on the workshop. There were people around us taking notes, earnestly debating the definition of nonviolence, asking about suitable clothing.
I was actually able to be helpful at one point. Benjamin had asked how we planned to alert the media — the whole point of the thing — and people were stymied by the negatives both of calling the press ahead of time and of waiting until they had already breached the office.
“Call a confederate,” I suggested. “Have someone ready at the fax machine, and call them on your cell phone as soon as it seems likely that you will succeed.” I then mentioned the importance of getting a good photo while you’re doing this, as it has always been my experience that a good photo will do wonders at getting your press release printed. I felt that I had done my part.
Following the workshop, the three of us had an hours’ worth of talk in the parking garage. I wondered why they didn’t ever think of calling the Senator’s mama. The Chemist knows his uncle and speaks with him regularly anyway. The Librarian wondered why they weren’t going after people who actually disagreed with them. Why persecute Democrats?
All three of us are fair trade activists, using the method of developing simple ways to make a difference and then politely chatting with people about it. It is hard for us to believe that storming a guy’s office and papering the walls with portraits of those who have died in Iraq (put the tape on them ahead of time, Benjamin told us) is the way to win him over.
Civil disobedience certainly has a long tradition of success, and I now have a good idea of how to plan a sit-in with hopes of being arrested, should that come up in my future.
It was an entertaining evening.