Quote Book – [40] – The Need For Idealism and Pragmatism In Government

But if there is one thing that President Kennedy stood for that touched the most profound feelings of young people around the world, it was the belief that idealism, high aspirations, and deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical and efficient of programs – that there is no basic inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities, no separation between the deepest desires of heart and of mind and the rational application of human effort to human problems. Make gentle the life of this world
To say that the future will be different from the present is, to scientists, hopelessly self-evident.  I observe regretfully that in politics, however, it can be heresy.  It can be denounced as radicalism or branded as subversion.  There are people in every time and every land who want to stop history in its tracks.  They fear the future, mistrust the present, and invoke the security of a comfortable past which, in fact, never existed. Make gentle the life of the world
Wise policy is setting priorities – differentiating between that which is merely important and that which is truly essential.  And it would be both callous and self-indulgent for those of us who sit comfortably at home to form policy without full knowledge and consciousness of the costs to others, young men and women and children, whose lives turn on the abstractions of our discussion. Make gentle the life of the world

Quote Book – [39] –Misc: Division vs Common Cause / Law – Society

Page 96 Thucydides reported that the Peloponnesians and their allies were mighty in battle but handicapped by their policy-making body, in which he related, “each presses its own ends … which generally results in no action at all … they devote more time to the prosecution of their own purposes than to the consideration of the general welfare – each supposes that no harm will come of his own neglect, that is the business of another to do this or that; and so, as each separately entertains the same illusion, the common cause imperceptibly decays” Make gentle the life of this world
Page 105 In a democratic society law in the form which free men give to justice.  The glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution – nor by the courts – nor by the officers of the law – nor by the lawyers – but by the men and women who constitute our society – who are the protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law. Make gentle the life of this world

Quote Book – [38] – Peope & Politicians

The suppression of individuality – the sense that one is listening – is even more pronounced in our politics.  Television, newspapers, magazines, are a cascade of words, official statements, policies, explanations, and declarations.  All flow from the height of government down to the passive citizen: who can shout up against a waterfall? More important, the language of politics is too often insincerity, which we have perhaps to easily accepted but which to the young is particularly offensive.  George Orwell wrote a generation ago: ‘In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.  Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.  The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism.  A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.”  In this respect, politics had not changed since Orwell wrote.  And if we add to the insincerity, and the absence of dialogue, the absurdity of a politics in which elected officials find sport in joking about children bitten by rats, we can understand why so many of our young people have turned form engagement to disengagement, from politics to passivity, from hope to nihilism, from SDS to LSD.

Quote Book – [37] – Social Exclusion & Society

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night.  This is the violence of institutions: indifference and inaction and slow decay.  This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because of their skins have different colours.  This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a mans among other men.  And this, too, afflicts us all.

..put a Candid Camera team in a ghetto school and watch what a rotten system of education it really is.  Film a mother staying up all night to keep the rats from her baby… Then I’d ask people to watch it and experience what it means to live in the most affluent society in history – without hope.

Quote Book – [36] – Society, Crime & Housing Provision

The real threat of crime is what it does to ourselves and our communities.  No nation hiding behind locked doors is free, for it is imprisoned by its own fear.  No nation whose citizens fear to walk their own streets healthy, for in isolation lies the poisoning of public participation.  A nation which surrenders to crime – whether by indifference or by heavy-handed repression – is a society which had resigned itself to failure.  Yet, disturbingly, many Americans seem to regard crime as a pervasive enemy that cannot be defeated.

Thus, the fight against crime is in the last analysis the same as the fight for equal opportunities, or the battle against hunger and deprivation, or the struggle to prevent the pollution of our air and water.  It is a fight to preserve that quality of community which is at the root of our greatness; a fight to preserve confidence in ourselves and our fellow citizens; a battle for the quality of our lives.

Our housing projects were built largely without either reference or relevance to the underlying problems of poverty, unemployment, social disorganisation, and alienation which caused people to need assistance in the first place.  Too many of the projects, as a result, becomes jungles – places of despair and danger for their residents, and for the cities they were designed to save.

Make Gentle The Life Of This World

Quote Book – [35] – Government & Society

Even as the drive toward bigness [and] concentration . . . has reached heights never before dreamt of in the past, we have come suddenly to realize how heavy a price we have paid . . . in loss of the values of nature and community and local diversity that found their nurture in the smaller towns and rural areas of America. And we can see, as we enter the last third of the twentieth century, that the price has been too high.
The question now assumes even greater urgency, as the growth of cities propels us toward the “mass society” – that frightening vision of people as interchangeable units, the middle class as powerless as the poor to affect the decisions of government.
One great problem is sheer growth, growth which crowds people into slums, thrusts suburbs out over the countryside, burdens to the breaking point all our old ways of thought and action-our systems of transportation and water supply, education, and even garbage collection. It also weighs heavily on our means of raising money to finance these vital services.

A second problem is the destruction of the physical environment, stripping people of contact with sun and fresh air, clean rivers, grass, and trees, condemning them to a life among stone and concrete, neon lights, and an endless river of automobiles.

A third problem is the increasing difficulty of transportation, adding concealed unpaid hours to the work week, removing man from the social and cultural amenities that are the heart of the city, sending destructive swarms of automobiles across the city, leaving behind them a band of concrete and a poisoned atmosphere.  And sometimes, as in Watts, our surrender to the mobile so crippled public transportation that thousands literally could not afford to go to work elsewhere in the city.

A fourth destructive force is the concentrated poverty and racial tension of the urban ghetto, a problem so vast that the barest recital of its symptoms is profoundly shocking.

The fifth is both the cause and consequence of all the rest. It is the destruction of the sense, and often the fact, of community, of human dialogue, of the thousand invisible strands of common experience and purpose, and of the affection and respect which tie men to their fellows.

It is expressed in such words as community, neighbourhood, civic pride, friendship. It provides the life-sustaining force of human warmth, or security among others, and a sense of one’s own human significance in the accepted association and companionship of others

Change is crowding our people into cities scarred by slums – encircles by suburbs which sprawl recklessly across the countryside, where movement is difficult, beauty rare, life itself more impersonal, and security imperiled by the lawless.
Therefore, the time has come … when we must actively fight bigness and over concentration, and seek instead to bring the engines of government, of technology, of the economy, fully under the control of our citizens, to recapture and reinforce the values of a more human time and place.
Growth has polluted our water and poisoned our air, and stripped us of contact with sunlight, trees and lakes.  Government has foundered as new agencies had proliferated, splitting tasks and energies among dozens of distant and unconnected bureaus.  Individuals have lost touch with the institutions of society, even with one another; and thus have become more and more both perpetrators and victims of coldness, cruelty, and violence.

Make gentle the life of this world

Quote Book – [32] – Society: People and its Government

If there is anything that we’ve learned during the 1960’s, all of us who are here, it is that violence is not the answer to our problems.  And let no one say that violence is the courageous way, that violence is the short route, that violence is the easy route.  Because violence will bring no answer : It will bring no answer to your union; it will bring no answer to your people; it will bring no answer to us here in the United States, as a people.

Punishment is not prevention.  History offers cold comfort to those who think grievance and despair can be subdued by force.  To understand is not to permit; but to fail to understand is the surest guarantee of failure.

Men without hope, resigned to despair and oppression, do not make revolutions.  It is when expectation replaces submission, when despair is touched with the awareness of possibility, that the force of human desire and the passion for justice are unloosed.
It is not bigness that should be our goal.  We must attempt, rather to bring people back to … the warmth of community, in the worth of individual effort and responsibility …and of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.
An Essential Foundation

Community demands a place where people can see and know each other, where children can play and adults work together and join in the pleasures and responsibilities of the place where they live.

Action on any one front alone will not succeed.  Providing a man a job, while in my judgment the most important step we can take, will not improve the schools his children attend or assure that medical care will be available even though he can afford it.  Building new housing without providing social services or transportation to get to work or accessible health services will result in one slum replacing another.  Improving the quality of education or job training without any promise of a job at the end will not ease the dropout rate.  But action on all these matters in concert will build a community.

The city is … a place where men should be able to live in dignity and security and harmony, where the great achievements of modern civilisation and the ageless pleasures afforded by natural beauty should be available to all.

[Another great task] is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – a lack of purpose and dignity – that inflict us all.  Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weights the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm hearted in a different scale.  Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
Government is a very rough business, you must be content with very unsatisfactory results – Sir George Cornewall

Make gentle the life of this world

Quote Book – [29] – Character: People & Politicians

Americans seem to have two natures, one extraordinarily positive and forthright, the other dark and cynical.  Historically, in challenging times, it has been easiest for politicians to appeal to the baser side.  Thus we’ve had the success of Father Coughlin and Huey Long during the depression, and later, of George Wallace.  (It has always struck me as odd that virtually all of the Democrats who supported George Wallace had previously been RFK Deomocrats.  The same Americans who voted for Wallace were able to share RFK’s vision of this country – a much different view.) I have never come across a public pronouncement by RFK in which he made an appeal to the darker side.
Father Charles Coughlin occupied both a strange and a familiar place in American politics in the 1930s. Politically radical, a passionate democrat, he nevertheless was a bigot who freely vented angry, irrational charges and assertions. A Catholic priest, he broadcast weekly radio sermons that by 1930 drew as many as forty-five million listeners. Strongly egalitarian, deeply suspicious of elites, a champion of what he saw as the ordinary person’s rights, Coughlin frequently and vigorously attacked capitalism, communism, socialism, and dictatorship By the mid-1930s, his talks took on a nasty edge as he combined harsh attacks on Roosevelt as the tool of international Jewish bankers with praise for the fascist leaders Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. The “Radio Priest’s” relentless anti-elitism pushed Roosevelt to sharpen his own critiques of elites, and in that sense Coughlin had a powerful impact on American politics beyond his immediate radio audience. This 1937 sermon, “Twenty Years Ago,” reflected much of what made Coughlin popular.
Huey Long first came to national attention as governor of Louisiana in 1928 and U.S. Senator in 1930. He ruled Louisiana as a virtual dictator, but he also initiated massive public works programs, improved public education and public health, and even established some restrictions on corporate power in the state. While Long was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, by the fall of 1933 the Long-Roosevelt alliance had ruptured, in part over Long’s growing interest in running for president. In 1934 Long organized his own, alternative political organization, the Share-Our-Wealth Society, through which he advocated a populist program for redistributing wealth through sharply graduated income and inheritance taxes. As his national recognition (and ambitions) grew, he spoke with increasing frequency to national radio audiences. No politician in this era—except Roosevelt himself and Long’s sometime ally, Father Charles Coughlin—used radio as frequently and effectively. In this April 1935 radio address, Long sharply criticized FDR and the New Deal and then sketched out his alternative program.
“It is simple to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and private gain.  It is more comfortable to sit content in the easy approval of friends and of neighbours than to risk the friction and the controversy that comes with public affairs.  It is easier to fall in step with the slogans of others than to march to the beat of the internal drummer – to make and stand on judgements of your own.  And it is far easier to accept and to stand on the past, than to fight for the answers of the future.” Daniel Webster, American lawyer, orator, and statesman  (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852)
[During one of RFK’s speeches, a student in the crowd asked, “where are you going to get all the money for these federally subsidised programmes you’re talking about?] From you.  Let me say something about the tenor of that question and some of the other questions.  There are people in this country who suffer.  I look around this room and i don’t see many black faces who are going to be doctors.  You can talk about where the money will come form ….Part of civilised society is to let people go to medical school who come from the ghettos.  You don’t see many people coming out of the ghettos or off the indian reservations to medical school.  You are the privileged ones here.  It’s easy to sit back and say it’s the fault of the federal government, but it’s our responsibility, too.  It’s our society, not just our government, that spends twice as much on pets as on poverty program.  It’s the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam.  You sit here as white medical students while black people carry the burden of fighting in Vietnam.

Make gentle the life of this world

Quote Book – [25] – Judiciary, Law, Individual Freedom and Civilisation

Communal life becomes possible only when a majority comes together that is stronger than any individual presents a untied front against every individual. The power of the community then pits itself, in the name of ‘right’, against the power of the individual, which it condemned as ‘brute force’. The replacement of the power of the individual by that of the community is the decisive step toward civilisation.

Its essence lies in the fact that the member of the community restrict themselves in the scope for satisfaction; whereas the individual knew no such restriction.

Hence, the next requirement of civilisation is justice, that us the assurance that the legal order, once established, shall not be violated again in favour of the individual. This entails no judgement regarding the ethical value of such a system of law. The subsequent development of civilisation seems to aim at a situation in which the law should no longer express the will of a small community – a caste, a social stratum or a tribe – that in its turn relates like a violent individual to other groups, which may be more comprehensive. The ultimate outcome should be a system of law to which all – or at least all those who qualify as members of the community – have contributed by partly forgoing the satisfaction of their drives, and which allows no one – again subject to the same qualification to become a victim of brute force.
Individual liberty is not an asset of civilisation. It was greatest before there was any civilisation, though admittedly even then it was largely worthless, because the individual was hardly in a position to defend it. With the development of civilisation it underwent restrictions, and justice requires than no one shall be spared these restrictions.

Quote Book – [24] – Civilsation, People & The Rule of Law

I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don’t have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down. Daniel Berrigan is in jail-A Catholic priest, a poet who opposes the war-and J. Edgar Hoover is free, you see. David Dellinger, who has opposed war ever since he was this high and who has used all of his energy and passion against it, is in danger of going to jail. The men who are responsible for the My Lai massacre are not on trial; they are in Washington serving various functions, primary and subordinate, that have to do with the unleashing of massacres, which surprise them when they occur. At Kent State University four students were killed by the National Guard and students were indicted. In every city in this country, when demonstrations take place, the protesters, whether they have demonstrated or not, whatever they have done, are assaulted and clubbed by police, and then they are arrested for assaulting a police officer.Now, I have been studying very closely what happens every day in the courts in Boston, Massachusetts. You would be astounded-maybe you wouldn’t, maybe you have been around, maybe you have lived, maybe you have thought, maybe you have been hit-at how the daily rounds of injustice make their way through this marvelous thing that we call due process. Well, that is my premise.

All you have to do is read the Soledad letters of George Jackson, who was sentenced to one year to life, of which he spent ten years, for a seventy-dollar robbery of a filling station. And then there is the U.S. Senator who is alleged to keep 185,000 dollars a year, or something like that, on the oil depletion allowance. One is theft; the other is legislation. something is wrong, something is terribly wrong when we ship 10,000 bombs full of nerve gas across the country, and drop them in somebody else’s swimming pool so as not to trouble our own. So you lose your perspective after a while. If you don’t think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition-that things are really topsy-turvy.
And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem…. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people.
But America is different. That is what we’ve all been brought up on. From the time we are this high and I still hear it resounding in Mr. Frankel’s statement-you tick off, one, two, three, four, five lovely things .~ about America that we don’t want disturbed very much. But if we have learned anything in the past ten years, it is that these lovely things about America were never lovely. We have been expansionist and aggressive and mean to other people from the beginning. And we’ve been aggressive and mean to people in this country, and we’ve allocated the wealth of this country in a very unjust way. We’ve never had justice in the courts for the poor people, for black people, for radicals. Now how can we boast that America is a very special place? It is not that special. It really isn’t.
Well, that is our topic, that is our problem: civil obedience. Law is very important. We are talking about obedience to law-law, this marvelous invention of modern times, which we attribute to Western civilization, and which we talk about proudly. The rule of law, oh, how wonderful, all these courses in Western civilization all over the land. Remember those bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism? Everything was terrible in the Middle Ages-but now we have Western civilization, the rule of law. The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done. Let us start looking at the rule of law realistically, not with that metaphysical complacency with which we always examined it before.

When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another than – we have with Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It’s the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That’s why we are always surprised when they get together — they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say. It’s like the Republican and Democratic parties, who claim that it’s going to make a terrible difference if one or the other wins, yet they are all the same. Basically, it is us against them.

Yossarian was right, remember, in Catch-22? He had been accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which nobody should ever be accused of, and Yossarian said to his friend Clevinger: “The enemy is whoever is going to get you killed, whichever side they are on.” But that didn’t sink in, so he said to Clevinger: “Now you remember that, or one of these days you’ll be dead.” And remember? Clevinger, after a while, was dead. And we must remember that our enemies are not divided along national lines, that enemies are not just people who speak different languages and occupy different territories. Enemies are people who want to get us killed.

We are asked, “What if everyone disobeyed the law?” But a better question is, “What if everyone obeyed the law?” And the answer to that question is much easier to come by, because we have a lot of empirical evidence about what happens if everyone obeys the law, or if even most people obey the law. What happens is what has happened, what is happening. Why do people revere the law? And we all do; even I have to fight it, for it was put into my bones at an early age when I was a Cub Scout. One reason we revere the law is its ambivalence. In the modern world we deal with phrases and words that have multiple meanings, like “national security.” Oh, yes, we must do this for national security! Well, what does that mean? Whose national security? Where? When? Why? We don’t bother to answer those questions, or even to ask them.
The law conceals many things. The law is the Bill of Rights. ;’~ fact, that is what we think of when we develop our reverence for the law. The law is something that protects us; the law is our right-the law is the Constitution. Bill of Rights Day, essay contests sponsored by the American Legion on our Bill of Rights, that is the law. And that is good.

But there is another part of the law that doesn’t get ballyhooed- the legislation that has gone through month after month, year after year, from the beginning of the Republic, which allocates the resources of the country in such a way as to leave some people very rich and other people very poor, and still others scrambling like mad for what little is left. That is the law. If you go to law school you will see this. You can quantify it by counting the big, heavy law books that people carry around with them and see how many law books you count that say “Constitutional Rights” on them and how many that say “Property,” “Contracts,” “Torts,” “Corporation Law.” That is what the law is mostly about. The law is the oil depletion allowance-although we don’t have Oil Depletion Allowance Day, we don’t have essays written on behalf of the oil depletion allowance. So there are parts of the law that are publicized and played up to us-oh, this is the law, the Bill of Rights. And there are other parts of the law that just do their quiet work, and nobody says anything about them.

It started way back. When the Bill of Rights was first passed, remember, in the first administration of Washington? Great thing. Bill of Rights passed! Big ballyhoo. At the same time Hamilton’s economic pro gram was passed. Nice, quiet, money to the rich-I’m simplifying it a little, but not too much. Hamilton’s economic program started it off. You can draw a straight line from Hamilton’s economic program to the oil depletion allowance to the tax write-offs for corporations. All the way through-that is the history. The Bill of Rights publicized; economic legislation unpublicized.

You know the enforcement of different parts of the law is as important as the publicity attached to the different parts of the law. The Bill of Rights, is it enforced? Not very well. You’ll find that freedom of speech in constitutional law is a very difficult, ambiguous, troubled concept. Nobody really knows when you can get up and speak and when you can’t. Just check all of the Supreme Court decisions. Talk about predictability in a system-you can’t predict what will happen to you when you get up on the street corner and speak. See if you can tell the difference between the Terminiello case and the Feiner case, and see if you can figure out what is going to happen. By the way, there is one part of the law that is not very vague, and that involves the right to distribute leaflets on the street. The Supreme Court has been very clear on that. In decision after decision we are affirmed an absolute right to distribute leaflets on the street. Try it. Just go out on the street and start distributing leaflets. And a policeman comes up to you and he says, “Get out of here.” And you say, “Aha! Do you know Marsh v. Alabama, 1946?” That is the reality of the Bill of Rights. That’s the reality of the Constitution, that part of the law which is portrayed to us as a beautiful and marvelous thing. And seven years after the Bill of Rights was passed, which said that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech,” Congress made a law abridging the freedom of speech. Remember? The Sedition Act of 1798.

So the Bill of Rights was not enforced. Hamilton’s program was enforced, because when the whisky farmers went out and rebelled you remember, in 1794 in Pennsylvania, Hamilton himself got on his horse and went out there to suppress the rebellion to make sure that the revenue tax was enforced. And you can trace the story right down to the present day, what laws are enforced, what laws are not enforced. So you have to be careful when you say, “I’m for the law, I revere the law.” What part of the law are you talking about? I’m not against all law. But I think we ought to begin to make very important distinctions about what laws do what things to what people.
And there are other problems with the law. It’s a strange thing, we think that law brings order. Law doesn’t. How do we know that law does not bring order? Look around us. We live under the rules of law. Notice how much order we have? People say we have to worry about civil disobedience because it will lead to anarchy. Take a look at the present world in which the rule of law obtains. This is the closest to what is called anarchy in the popular mind-confusion, chaos, international banditry. The only order that is really worth anything does not come through the enforcement … of law, it comes through the establishment of a society which is just and in which harmonious relationships are established and in which you need a minimum of regulation to create decent sets of arrangements among people. But the order based on law and on the force of law is the order of the totalitarian state, and it inevitably leads either to total injustice or to rebel lion-eventually, in other words, to very great disorder.

We all grow up with the notion that the law is holy. They asked Daniel Berrigan’s mother what she thought of her son’s breaking the law. He burned draft records-one of the most violent acts of this century- to protest the war, for which he was sentenced to prison, as criminals should be. They asked his mother who is in her eighties, what she thought of her son’s breaking the law. And she looked straight into the interviewer’s face, and she said, “It’s not God’s law.” Now we forget that. There is nothing sacred about the law. Think of who makes laws. The law is not made by God, it is made by Strom Thurmond. If you nave any notion about the sanctity and loveliness and reverence for the law, look at the legislators around the country who make the laws. Sit in on the sessions of the state legislatures. Sit in on Congress, for these are the people who make the laws which we are then supposed to revere.
All of this is done with such propriety as to fool us. This is the problem. In the old days, things were confused; you didn’t know. Now you know. It is all down there in the books. Now we go through due process. Now the same things happen as happened before, except that we’ve gone through the right procedures. In Boston a policeman walked into a hospital ward and fired five times at a black man who had snapped a towel at his arm-and killed him. A hearing was held. The judge decided that the policeman was justified because if he didn’t do it, he would lose the respect of his fellow officers. Well, that is what is known as due process-that is, the guy didn’t get away with it. We went through the proper procedures, and everything was set up. The decorum, the propriety of the law fools us.

The nation then, was founded on disrespect for the law, and then came the Constitution and the notion of stability which Madison and Hamilton liked. But then we found in certain crucial times in our history that the legal framework did not suffice, and in order to end slavery we had to go outside the legal framework, as we had to do at the time of the American Revolution or the Civil War. The union had to go outside the legal framework in order to establish certain rights in the 1930s. And in this time, which may be more critical than the Revolution or the Civil War, the problems are so horrendous as to require us to go outside the legal framework in order to make a statement, to resist, to begin to establish the kind of institutions and relationships which a decent society should have. No, not just tearing things down; building things up. But even if you build things up that you are not supposed to build up-you try to build up a people’s park, that’s not tearing down a system; you are building something up, but you are doing it illegally-the militia comes in and drives you out. That is the form that civil disobedience is going to take more and more, people trying to build a new society in the midst of the old.

But what about voting and elections? Civil disobedience-we don’t need that much of it, we are told, because we can go through the electoral system. And by now we should have learned, but maybe we haven’t, for we grew up with the notion that the voting booth is a sacred place, almost like a confessional. You walk into the voting booth and you come out and they snap your picture and then put it in the papers with a beatific smile on your face. You’ve just voted; that is democracy. But if you even read what the political scientists say-although who can?-about the voting process, you find that the voting process is a sham. Totalitarian states love voting. You get people to the polls and they register their approval. I know there is a difference-they have one party and we have two parties. We have one more party than they have, you see.

What we are trying to do, I assume, is really to get back to the principles and aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority and to forces that deprive people of their life and liberty and right to pursue happiness, and therefore under these conditions, it urges the right to alter or abolish their current form of government-and the stress had been on abolish. But to establish the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes. My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries because they all need it. People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need a kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.

The Problem is Civil Obedience
by Howard Zinn