Popping Your Civil Disobedience Cherry

by Jennifer Gilhool - Gender Economics Lab —

This past weekend I engaged in civil disobedience to voice my support for social movements that are important to me. I took with me two friends – both women, both middle-aged and both virgins. Civil disobedience virgins. (I have no comment on any other virginal status they may or may not hold.)

It’s exciting to pop your civil disobedience cherry. There is a kind of adrenaline rush that you experience similar to the kind you feel when competing. You bond with your fellow marchers through stories, shared experiences, and a commitment to a cause in which you believe regardless of its popularity. It’s a rush.

Civil disobedience is a sacred act if not a duty entrusted to the citizens of a Democracy. Thomas Jefferson said it was self-evident that all men are created equal and that they enjoy certain unalienable rights bestowed upon them by their Creator. Further, these unalienable rights are secured for men by governments that are created by men who through their consent entrust the government with power. In other words, but for the consent of the people, the government has no power. 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed . . ."Declaration of Independence, United States of America, 1776
Civil disobedience, then, is the act of disobeying the law on the grounds of moral or political principle. It is an attempt to influence society to accept a dissenting point of view. The classic treatise on this topic is Henry David Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," which states that when a person's conscience and the laws clash, that person must follow his or her conscience. The 2016 presidential election has left many U.S. citizen questioning the justness, wisdom, and objectivity of our government. The result can be seen and felt on the streets and in the cafes of America

There is new [older] generation of protestors. Many are female. Many are over 40, even over 50. They bring their children and grandchildren to protest rallies and marches. They are every color, size, and shape. They represent a generation of women that has fought for equality and been denied. They represent hope for a future that succeeding generations of women believed was already here. At least, they did until Nov 8. They represent the next 7 generations.

The United States Constitution is based on the Great Law of Peace and the governing principles of the Iroquois Confederacy, a united of six Native American Tribes under a single, over-arching governing system. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution outlines three branches of government that are the same three branches first instituted by the Iroquois Confederacy. Among the few changes made by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison to the governing principles set forth by the Iroquois Confederacy was the decision to exclude women from the governing process. A mistake that lingers to this very day.

Native American women in the Confederacy were entrusted with nominating leaders, implementing justice (e.g., serving a role similar to the Supreme Court), holding and passing title to land, and exercising veto power over Confederacy decisions such as the decision to go to war. Women were entrusted with these powers because of the unique position as women not despite it. Women have and raise children. Accordingly, they are best positioned to identify future tribal leaders and to hold them accountable for their actions. Further, women take a long term view when making decisions whereas men make decisions focusing on shorter term consequences. Women consider the next seven generations, which is the essence of the Great Law of Peace.

My friends popped their respective cherries at the Women Marching Against Hate event held in Seattle, Washington. The marchers represented every walk of life. There were millennials, Gen-Xers, baby boomers and even Gen-Z marchers. There were babies in strollers, children, teenagers, mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Marchers identified as cisgender, transgender, gender-queer, straight, gay, lesbian, bi, pan-sexual, queer, Latino, black, white, Asian, India, religious and non-religious marchers. All were marching against hate. All were marching for the next seven generations.

As we marched through Seattle, people in cars honked their horns in support, people on the streets cheered, some cried openly upon seeing the long and winding line of marchers. There were people in window holding their children and babies pointing and clapping. The atmosphere was positive, empowering, and hopeful. It was a great time.

On Sunday, my friends and I attended a meeting of Pantsuit Nation also in Seattle. Pantsuit Nation started as a movement to encourage women to wear pantsuits on November 8th (you know why). It has quickly grown from a private Facebook group into a national movement. Pantsuit Nation fosters connections and builds empathy among its members through story telling, It also encourages members to take action, specifically thoughtful, forward ¬thinking actions ranging from confronting a bully, to calling a senator, donating money to an important cause or extending a simple kindness to another person.

These events in and of themselves may seem inconsequential, but they are not. Civil disobedience has a long history of impacting social values and influencing government policies and actions. Take for example:

1.    The Boston Tea Party -- citizens of the colony of Massachusetts trespassed on a British ship and threw its cargo (tea from England) overboard, rather than be forced to pay taxes without representation to Britain. This was one of the many acts of civil disobedience leading to the War for Independence, establishing the United States of America as a sovereign state.

2.    Anti-war movements have been a part of U.S. history since Thoreau went to jail for refusing to participate in the U.S. war against Mexico in 1849. More recent examples were the nationwide protests against the war in Viet Nam, U.S involvement in Nicaragua and Central America, and the Gulf War.

3.    The Women's Suffrage Movement lasted from 1848 until 1920, when thousands of courageous women marched in the streets, endured hunger strikes, and submitted to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote.

4.    Abolition of Slavery including Harriet Tubman's underground railway, giving sanctuary, and other actions that helped to end slavery.

5.    The Introduction of Labor Laws and Unions. Sit-down strikes organized by the IWW, and CIO free speech confrontations led to the eradication of child labor and improved working conditions, established the 40-hour work week and improved job security and benefits.

6.    The Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, included sit-ins and illegal marches which weakened segregation in the south.

7.    The Anti-Nuclear Movement stimulated by people like Karen Silkwood and the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident, organized citizens throughout the country into direct action affinity groups, with consensus decision-making and Gandhian nonviolence as its core. Massive acts of civil disobedience took place at nuclear power facilities across the country, followed by worldwide protests against first-strike nuclear weapons, occupying military bases, maintaining peace camps, interfering with manufacture and transport of nuclear bombs and devices, marching, sitting in, blockading and otherwise disrupting business as usual at nuclear sites.

8.    Environmental and Forest Demonstrations with acts of civil disobedience such as sit-ins, blockades, tree sits and forest occupations, have emerged in the last decade, prompted by the continuing mass clear cuts and destruction of the forest ecosystem and widespread environmental consequences.*

Civil disobedience may not result in short term changes but long terms changes inevitably result as governments recognize and conform to the will of the people. A living and fully functioning democracy demands the participation of the governed. Without their active participation, government can easily become destructive appealing to our baser instincts and fears rather than aspiring to our hopes and dreams. It is up to us as citizens to point the way for our government not the other way around.

Cynics will sneer at the sentiments conveyed here and argue that nothing will come of these silly movements led by women. The women and men who participate in these movements, however, are not expecting short-term results but seek long term, systemic societal changes for future generations. They remember how the British laughed at the colonists who spilled British tea into Boston Harbor. We all know how that turned out.

*For more, see Democracy Web at http://democracyweb.org/node/16

Jennifer Gilhool Jennifer Gilhool is the Founder and CEO of the Gender Economics Lab, a sustainable human capital consulting firm and author of Sheryl Sandberg, China & Me, a real life lean-in story about a woman executive at one of America’s most iconic companies (available on Amazon.com and in China in Mandarin on Amazon.cn). Learn more at www.gendereconomicslab.com.


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