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Our informal small group of people who say to Marquette University Teach War No More by our resistance to military training on campus and who say to the politicians and officials No More War Spending by our resistance to Killer Drones call ourselves Breaking the Silence. We have no leader but say in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Never again will I be silent on an issue that is destroying the soul of our nation…”
Howard Zinn, historian, playwright and social activist said: “Our problem is not civil disobedience. 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.” The opposite of blind obedience to authority, even when our conscience is violated, is civil disobedience. All true revolutions start when people break the silence and resist with acts of civil disobedience, like throwing tea taxed unjustly overboard;like gathering in the city square like in Cairo; like refusing to take a seat in the back of the bus because of the color of your skin; like union workers refusing to work in unjust conditions. The examples are endless but the common thread is that change, like building a true democracy, starts with resistance and civil disobedience.
In our times, 20th and 21st century where there is so much technology of killing the successful revolutions seem to be ones of nonviolent resistance, like in South Africa, the liberation of India, civil rights movement in the USA, the beginning of democracy in Tunisia and Egypt. Attempts to change using violence, like in Vietnam, Iraq or now Afghanistan have lead to more violence.
This is not to say that nonviolent acts of civil disobedience have not met with violence. However, the violence has been one sided, the oppressor not oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from the Birmingham jail, talks about how “disciplined nonviolence totally confused the rulers of the South.” They did not know what to do. “When they finally reached for clubs, dogs and guns, they found the world was watching, and then the power of nonviolent protest became manifest.”
Father Ignacio Ellacuria S.J. The Salvadoran Jesuit Martyr wrote ,in his book “Freedom Made Flesh The Mission of Christ and His Church”. “Nonviolent action is born of two very powerful forces: the absolute and total rejection of injustice committed against human beings, and a love that impels one towards the construction of a new society. It transforms hatred into a constructive force.”
Of course this type of nonviolent action needed to construct a true democracy requires enduring suffering without reprisals. The nonviolent cross is a symbol of this kind of love. We will save suffering as the third ingredient of building a strong democracy until another posting. For now we can with Howard Zinn say: “Civil disobedience is not our problem.” “… to begin the process of change, to stop a war, to establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience.” Democracy needs Civil Disobedience.
The full quotes of Howard Zinn and Father Ignacio Ellacuria S.J are below:
’‘Our problem is not civil disobedience. 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 herd like people.’‘
— Howard Zinn
In such a world, the rule of law maintains things as they are. Therefore, to begin the process of change, to stop a war, to establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience, as Southern black did, as antiwar protesters did.” Howard Zinn, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times”
“Nonviolent action is born of two very powerful forces: the absolute and total rejection of injustice committed against human beings, and a love that impels one towards the construction of a new society. It transforms hatred into a constructive force. The process of Christian interpretation helps us to see that the real enemy is not another human being but the system that has made individuals evil. These individuals are the oppressors, who must who must be liberated from their active oppression. By dramatizing the injustice in a social context, one obliges consciences to face up to the injustice in a social context, one obliges consciences to face up the injustice that is there. The oppressor is forced to recognize his injustice in an explicit and public way. The repression he uses to stifle nonviolent action makes clear his usual pattern of conduct, and nonviolent resistance reveals his own moral inferiority.” — Freedom Made Flesh The Mission of Christ and His Church by Ignacio Ellacuria, Orbis Books, 1976