In defense of civil disobedience: Jesus did it; we can too
Photos by EL Khirani Adil and Spencer H
It’s no surprise that the Seattle Times editorial board earlier this month called for a draconian response to civil disobedience following the disruption to downtown traffic caused by members of the No New Youth Jail movement. As the voice for the capitalist elite of our city, we now know that the editorial board cares more about the smooth flow of downtown traffic than about the traumatizing, inhumane, and frankly outrageous policy of incarcerating children.
The editorial board claims “Some community members already perceive there is a lack of enforcement of laws that are supposed to protect safety and civility, prevent property crime, and prohibit squatting in parks and public spaces.” We hear the message of these “community members” loud and clear: lock up poor kids of color, let the homeless languish and die in the cold in record numbers, but don’t you dare impede the flow of traffic – there are business deals to be done!
As the poor and unemployed of this city, we have come to expect this response to our collective assertions of human dignity. The prison population continues to rise unchecked, disproportionately affecting people of color and the working class. Between 2010 and 2015, the income gap between the super-rich and the bottom 20% grew by $29,200 nationally – in Seattle this gap was nearly twice as large. Given the apparent helplessness of elected officials to effectively represent the majority of their constituents by reversing income inequality or ending the war of mass incarceration being waged on communities of color, people of conscience have no alternative but to use the nonviolent power of civil disobedience to stand up for truth, justice, and basic human rights by putting our bodies on the line.
We have had enough. If “safety and civility” means permitting the rich to drive up the cost of living, then it is precisely this type of “safety and civility” that needs to be challenged on a daily basis. Given the extent of income inequality and the brutality of mass incarceration, Mayor Durkan should be grateful for every day that goes by without disruption to business as usual.
The unimpeded flow of capital into the pockets of the rich for their vanity projects to develop driverless cars or private space missions while thousands are living in tents, jails, or for-profit immigrant detention centers recalls the decadence of imperial Rome. Over the next few days, local Christians will memorialize the life of one person in one corner of the Roman Empire who took a stand against the domination of the rich over the poor. According to the Gospels, Jesus’s act of civil disobedience, overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple, directly led to his execution by Rome four days later. Jesus specifically challenged the “payday lenders” of his day by targeting the dove sellers who gouged people too poor to buy the more prestigious but vastly more expensive cattle or sheep for the Passover sacrifice (Matthew. 21:12).
By flippantly calling for a crackdown on civil disobedience, the Times editorial board makes it clear whose side they would have been on in 33 AD. History will not look kindly on the contemporary defenders of this cruel and unjust social order who mendaciously frame righteous disobedience to systemic racism and poverty as disrespect.