Susan B. Anthony had committed civil disobedience: she had broken the law, peacefully, for a higher purpose.
Women would not gain the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920, 48 years after Ms. Anthony’s initial civil disobedience.
Being able to vote makes us rich in what matters. So do civil rights. We take these things for granted. But they were once radical notions. And it took radical actions — voluntary arrests– to make these basic human rights into realities.
Radicalism is about going to the roots of a problem. (Rebellion, in contrast, is about reacting to a problem.) The world’s biggest problem is now climate change. The entire educated world knows that climate change is happening, is dire and will create epic suffering.
But few individuals or institutions address climate change, or even verbally acknowledge it on a typical day. That last is sometimes even true of me. Life is full and busy enough without worrying about climate change.
But last night was different. Last night my husband and I hosted a dinner party to celebrate my 53rd birthday. Our speaker was Bonnie McKinlay, a climate activist here in Portland, Oregon. In the course of many demonstrations, Bonnie has been arrested for civil disobedience twice. “Getting arrested on behalf of climate change has been the best experience of my life,” she says, without hesitation.
Lots of training and preparation happen before these arrests, which are for trespassing (trespassing is a misdemeanor). The process is peaceful and transparent. The police get no surprises.
Bonnie’s manner is cheerful, joyous. She feels good about her life and her choices. She is clearly rich in what matters. Maybe that centered, un-angry quality goes along with practicing radicalism, going to the roots, rather than rebellion.
I’m thinking about committing civil disobedience on behalf of climate change, myself. 74,000 people nationwide have pledged to risk arrest to ensure that President Obama does not approve the Keystone XL pipeline. My husband and I have both received the training.
My main concern at this point is that the misdemeanor charge would not endanger my job (I like it and intend to keep it). I’m told that the jobs of doctors, nurses and teachers here in the Portland public school system are not at risk if they take this path. That’s good to hear. I need to get more information from my union, the SEIU. I learned last night that Dr. Martin Luther King was closely affiliated with the SEIU. I’d be in good company.
Women only gained the right to vote after decades of radicalism. And civil rights only came to pass in the U.S. after people like Rosa Parks politely but illegally insisted on radical things like sitting in the front of the bus with the white folks.
Sometimes, yesterday’s radicalism becomes today’s common sense. Of course women can vote. Of course people of color sit in the same part of the bus as white people.
Nobody needs now to get arrested to create this sanity. 2013 is nice that way.
Maybe, 48 years down the road, when the earth’s temperature is several degrees warmer, many of the world’s coastal cities have been inundated, and Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocity has been surpassed by dozens of severe weather events, people will ask: why did people in 2013 have so much trouble addressing the roots of climate change?
Going to the roots is also what Malala Yousafzai is about. She’s the young education activist who recovered fully after the Taliban shot her in the head. I’m giving away a free copy of her inspiring book “I Am Malala”. Register for the drawing by going to top right of this site and subscribing by email to Diamond-Cut Life (you’ll then receive my Sunday posts in your inbox. Easy to unsubscribe with a click any time.) I’m doing the drawing on Thanksgiving Day.