Civil disobedience for a future

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If we want to avoid a climate and energy disaster of epic proportions, we are going to need to make extensive use of a very old tool, but one that never goes out of fashion. Civil disobedience is making a strong comeback. That's why more than 1,000 members of the scientific community took action a few days ago, in more than 25 countries. To send a very clear and strong message: reporting and documenting the catastrophe is not enough. The time has come to take action.

Because maybe you have not thought that, if you work a maximum of 8 hours a day, it is thanks to brave people who one day said enough to semi-slavery, and organized themselves to fight it. No doubt it would be necessary to put it into practice again to get to 6 hours a day or reduce a day's work. We have to use less energy and materials. Produce and consume less. We could do that simply by gaining free time.

Because if you are a woman and you live in a country that allows you to vote, it is thanks to the fact that many women organized and achieved that this right was recognized. In 1913, more than a thousand women had already been imprisoned in English prisons, accused of committing illegal acts as part of the struggle for women's suffrage. This right has not yet been achieved in Saudi Arabia.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, that country is one of the main ecological criminals, since its strategic interests in the fossil fuel industry are delaying the necessary action to prevent the disappearance of climate stability, that which has allowed us to prosper as a civilization. A stability that, according to all the studies, is already hanging by a very thin thread and that will have to be defended more strongly if we do not want to lose it.

Because if you are a minority, although you are still much more likely to be treated or detained unfairly, or to live with less income than the average person in your country, most of your rights were achieved by defying an established order that was unfair and discriminated against you.

Because the physicist and activist Vandana Shiva masterfully summarized what underlies all these cases: sometimes, it is not about disobeying a law, but obeying a higher law.

There have been examples of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action for thousands of years. There have always been unjust laws and, evidently, no one in their right mind doubts anymore that law is often not the same as justice.

As early as 494 B.C. there was an event known as the "Strike of the plebeians" in which, through non-cooperation with the authorities, the status of part of the Roman population was significantly improved. And, undoubtedly, there are earlier precedents.

In our modern era, there are two great precursors: the French philosopher Étienne de la Boétie, who in 1574 with his work Discourse on Voluntary Servitude already argued about the lack of legitimacy of authority: "all servitude is voluntary and proceeds exclusively from the consent of those over whom the power is exercised".

But it was in 1846 that the writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau was to begin to give color and shape to the modern idea of civil disobedience. After starting to live in a cabin he had built himself on the land of his friend, also a philosopher and writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in order to have time and calm to refine his writing and be in contact with nature, Thoreau had an encounter with the local tax collector, who demanded that he pay the six years of taxes he owed to the State's coffers. A state (the United States) that at that time was engaged in a war with Mexico and that tolerated slavery. Thoreau refused to pay, arguing that he did not intend to collaborate with a slave state and war. And so he spent the next night in jail.

He got out immediately because someone close to him, probably his aunt, paid the fine against his will. He wanted to remain behind bars. He argued that: "under a government that unjustly imprisons anyone, an honest man's home is jail."

In the early months of 1848 he lectured on The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government, and in 1849 the Essay on Resistance to Civil Government was published, which would later become the most famous essay on Civil Disobedience in history, and which had such pearls as "Man is rich in proportion to the amount of things he can do without." That work was the one that most influenced Gandhi, when it came to putting into practice methods that had little success in Thoreau's time, but which, thanks to the magic of books, crossed time and oceans to be put into practice with great success in the India of decolonization. Sometimes a writer simply sows, for others to reap.

The Suffragettes, Rosa Park, Martin Luther King, Mandela or Desmond Tutu have also used some of the tactics that come from Thoreau's analysis. And they have helped to shape society for the better, changing and repealing unjust laws, thanks to the practice of civil disobedience.

Today, the time has come to return to these methods with great urgency. That is why movements such as Extinction Rebellion, Scientist Rebellion or Just Stop Oil, among others, have arisen.

This is a crucial moment. The next few years will determine whether we sustain our civilization - we do not even have a decade to change - or let it collapse under the weight of everything we have pretended to sustain. Sustaining infinite growth on a finite planet was absurd from the beginning. But now it is essential to abandon this idea, an impossible chimera that is condemning us to collide with planetary limits that are what they are and that do not admit negotiation. An idea that, if we are stubborn, if we do not take action to change in time to adapt, may even end life on Earth.

About the Author

Juan Bordera

Journalist and content creator.

April 20, 2022 — Juan Bordera


Marta Ramos González

Marta Ramos González said:

Buenas noches, Juan:

Suscribo lo que has escrito. No puedo más que subrayar que soy muy consciente de que sin las luchas pasadas e inclusive los sacrificios de muchas de las personas a las que has nombrado, la Humanidad no hubiera conquistado muchos de sus derechos. Derechos que por cierto, siempre están en peligro de irse al garete, si no se está vigilante.

He estado en alguna de las charlas en las que estabas presente, junto con otras personas relevantes en esta lucha en la actualidad. Es más, me informo todo lo que puedo, leo, sigo algunas conferencias en redes, leo a gentes que yo considero cualificadas en redes y, lo que es más, “me pringo” y doy mi opinión. Estar bien informado es positivo en muchos sentidos. Solo hay una parte negativa, si lo haces por libre, tiene un considerable coste. Coste de tiempo porque separar “la paja del grano” conlleva efectivamente, eso, tiempo y esfuerzo. Y algo más, preocupación, que si no se convierte en acción conlleva efectos negativos como la parálisis.

Creo que canalizar eso de la ecoansiedad, el ecoenfado, o la preocupación, en colaborar junto con otras gentes en alguna acción o voluntariado es positivo, no solo personal, sino socialmente.

EN DEFINITIVA: si queréis que colabore en algún sentido con vosotros, os dejo mi mail para que contactéis conmigos. Muchas gracias por todo,

Marta Ramos González.

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