Left Justified: Learn civil disobedience or die

It’s just after the election, and I know we lost. The warmongers got in, and our country is gearing up to invade Iran. The peace movement is paralyzed. We put all our eggs into the election basket, and the voters stepped on them.

Well, at least we can make an omelet. But we’ll have to throw in some good rabble-rousing demonstrations and learn tactics that include civil disobedience. If you remember, Vietnam protesters took to the streets as politicians promised “peace in our time” but sent bombers into Cambodia. And the protesters were rounded up; some were shot.

Violent confrontations do not bring about peace; using nonviolent tactics similar to Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may work. So I have invited the Midwest’s premier advocate on civil disobedience to teach his craft, next Monday, Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St. The program is free and open to the public.

Frank Cordaro, a former parish priest and lifetime career activist for peace from Des Moines, Iowa, will lead us through the do’s and don’ts of effecting social change. He’s led regional peace workshops and actions. “Father Frank’s” been arrested five times for protesting the war in Iraq and is awaiting federal prosecution for trespassing at Offut Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb.

He spent almost four years total in prison for his acts of civil disobedience. The guy lives in a Catholic Worker house in Des Moines. It’s named after Phil Berrigan, a Catholic priest who burned draft records during the Vietnam War period. They serve soup to the poor and pray publicly for peace (“that goes together,” says the saint of protest).

I met Frank a long time ago in Omaha, Neb.. We were marching for a nuclear weapons freeze and asking that the SAC missile base shut down. (Twenty years later, and the base is still more prosperous than I am.) Many of us had never “crossed the line” and trespassed on federal property without permission. It was a simple act, but it educated us about proper ways of confronting authority with civil disobedience. Frank is a happy warrior! He kept the morale of the group high, and made sure the message of the action was properly conveyed to the media, the public, and those in charge. And he also checked that no one was harmed.

The peace movement might need a lot more civil disobedience training if we’re going to turn this government away from war. Too much money is going to the military-industrial complex and little to solve the complex problems of poverty.

Even if the votes are counted correctly, and there is a regime change in Congress, I think the tendency will be to remain on a military footing instead of trying to transform the world into a more peaceful and healing place. So all you wanna-be peace activists had better learn how to get arrested because, as the president says, “If you’re not with him, you’re an enemy.”

We’ll be in good company with some of the earlier heroes of this country who also refused to go along with the status quo. The story is told of Henry David Thoreau, who was imprisoned for his conscientious objection to war taxes. His friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to visit him and asked, “What are you doing in jail?” Thoreau looked at him in surprise and said, “The question is not, what am I doing in here, but what are you doing out there?”

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Nov.8-14, 2006, issue

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