Civil Disobedience

Does it make sense to use civil disobedience as a tool when stopping the destruction of the natural world? Is it effective?

We seem to have limited time to do something about the destruction of the natural world, so effectiveness is really quite interesting! I think of what I read Tim Jackins saying to some group, it might even have been the World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities. “This is a group of very nice but so far rather ineffective people” (or something like that). I have laughed about it many times and thrown vague thoughts in the direction of what could be more effective than what I or we do now.

Here are some of my thoughts:

In RC we think that “decide, act, discharge” is a faster way to re-emergence than discharging until all distresses are gone before we embark on acting. If we step outside of what seems possible from within our distresses, not only do a lot of feelings come rushing up with extra speed and force but we also get to discharge these now-available feelings from a position of actually having done something that seemed impossible. Wow. We get a glimpse of the world and ourselves outside of our distresses. “Aha, this is what it is like to love/not drink alcohol/speak one’s mind/go to bed on time!”

It seems to me that the same is true regarding institutionalized distresses, society’s “distresses.” Things might go faster if we apply “decide, act, discharge” on a societal scale too. I think that in this case “act” would mean that we in some concrete way change something that is “distressed” in our society—that we put society, or part of it, outside of its “distresses.”

Nothing makes me discharge more on liberation and oppression, hope and hopelessness, power and powerlessness, and fear than when I hear about people refusing to cooperate with oppression or creating a piece of rational human society where oppression up until then was filling up the space—people actually stepping in to protect a threatened person, disarm weapons, refuse to work under oppressive circumstances (go on strike), take over land that has been stolen, build unexpected alliances, stop pollution by plugging up a polluting pipeline, charge with murder police officers who are responsible for a Black man’s death.

I have participated in some civil disobedience, and I have noticed that when people encounter our actions, it brings up a lot of their feelings about change. I have listened to a lot of people talk about hope, hopelessness, powerlessness, and their histories of taking action themselves. It happens around any kind of political activity but especially, it seems, around civil disobedience.

When my German grandmother heard about some of my resistance to the military, she started crying about how if people back then had done more of what we were doing, Hitler’s regime might have been stopped. That was the only time she had ever spoken with me about World War II.

It is difficult to see things clearly when destruction continues unchallenged. We need to make some space to feel, discharge, and think by making things actually change, if only a little. It is like non-permissive counselling: “No, you do not get to go on destroying our planet, my people, any people. I will not let you.” The space created is there for everyone to use: us, the people who carry out the oppression and destruction, and everyone else who gets to hear about what we have done.

The oppressive society feeds on our feelings of powerlessness. Societal power (the upholding of oppression) is also organised in very concrete ways—for example, in economic, military, legal, and political institutions. These are the pillars that in practice organise, uphold, and protect the oppression. Our distresses and these institutions cooperate to keep the oppressive society going. We need to think strategically and creatively about how to challenge both feelings of powerlessness (ours and others’) and the economic, military, legal, and political pillars that uphold the oppressive society.

A common idea is that civil disobedience is to be used only when one has tried all legal ways and they have proven ineffective. Parliamentary democracy is advertised to us (at least where I live) as perfect and able to sort out any problem. Hmmm. Parliamentary democracy is used by oppressive forces to continue destroying the world. Politicians are under pressure from economic interests to support and protect those interests and their doings. Also, the very idea that parliamentary democracy is so fantastic, along with how the history of the resistance that created so many of our rights is hidden, makes us passive. We think that someone else has the power, not us, and that rights and freedom are given to us if we ask those “in power.”

I have heard that the more actual resistance (non-cooperation with oppression) there is in a campaign, the more likely it is to succeed. This is based on studies of movements for change all over the world, many of them outside of “the West.” When it comes to changing things, actually doing what we want to see happen seems to be more effective than asking or demanding that others, for example our government or big companies, make the desired changes.

Is it so? If it is, then why?

There is much more thinking to do about these things! I would like to hear more about people’s experiences with and thoughts about resistance and organising strategically to change something, about the possible links between various kinds of action and discharge and re-evaluation, about handling repression, about successes and failures and lessons learnt, about how change actually happens, about thinking big and what happens then.

Lotta Kronlid

Goteborg, Sweden

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of wide world change

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00