Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Getting Arrested & Effective Civil Disobedience

After reading the blog posts highlighted on "The Interdependent Web" and some of their comments, I've been thinking about whether or not I think getting arrested while doing public protest is always, sometimes, or never helpful/effective, and whether or not this particular instance of UUs getting arrested in Arizona was meaningful and helpful or not.  Obviously, an extreme being very seldom the right answer, I'm going to go with "sometimes" here, but then the second question needs further addressing.

Lest you think that as a radical lefty UU, I am always lock-step with the "party line," let me give an instance of what I think was not the most helpful or effective use of being locked up for the cause.  While I support Jay Carmona personally, and I support the cause of ENDA strongly enough that I've gone to Washington D.C. to lobby on that issue, something I've only done on this one occasion, the sit-in in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office that led to the arrest of the "ENDA Four" left me scratching my head in wonder.  Nancy Pelosi supports ENDA, doesn't she?  Why do we want to get in her way and on her bad side?  Yes, she's moving too slowly on it, but is getting arrested in her office going to be an effective way to change her mind?  When I went to my representative's office, I worked to continue my good relationship with him, brought personal stories of people I know whose lives have been affected by discrimination, and shared them with him.  It affected him enough that Schauer spoke about it the next time we ran into each other and thanked me again for sharing those stories, and assured me again of his vote.  I'm sure Jay Carmona and the other three have passionate feelings about ENDA that led to their thinking this was an effective course of action.  It's not a perspective that I right now particularly share, despite sympathy with the cause. 

Here's what I think was different about the situation in Arizona.  I believe that the UUs getting arrested did have a purpose that was helpful.  In this case, they were not only protesting the law's going into effect, they were also taking an action that they hoped would be directly beneficial to the people most affected by that law.  The Sheriff had a stated intention of doing a massive sweep on that day for illegal immigrants.  They hoped that by being a nuisance to the police, they would not only get their message across, they would also stop or slow down that sweep.  Was it effective?  I think it was, at least in part.  Yes, the sheriff still arrested plenty of illegal immigrants, but it seems likely that the arrest of so many protesters did temporarily use resources that would've been deployed elsewhere otherwise.  So it can be said that the locking up of these UUs did have at least a small impact on the situation.  As Rev. Colin Bossen writes, "Our acts of civil disobedience Thursday diverted the Maricopa Sheriff’s resources away from several planned raids and delayed, if only briefly, the implementation of the law."

In some ways, what we saw in Arizona may be the use of getting arrested at its most effective, if on a small scale.  That is, often the only gain of getting arrested is media publicity for your cause, but it doesn't change the situation at all other than to change the court of public opinion.  In Arizona, however brief and small, it may have changed individual people's lives.

Good work, friends.  And Jay, I certainly hope I'm wrong and that your getting arrested in Pelosi's office had a positive impact on her, or in other ways furthered your mission. 

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