In September of 2006, at the height of the U.S. war against Iraq, I participated in an act of Civil Disobedience in the Hart Senate Office Building in protest. Since then, I have been arrested twice more in front of the White House in anti-war demonstrations, and once this summer in a witness against the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.
As I prepared to participate in that first act of nonviolent protest in Washington, I wrote the following words in my blog:
I have written and spoken often about my conviction that our witness as people of faith should, wherever possible, be a positive one. What we as followers of Jesus are for is far more compelling than what we are against, and we must accept the challenge to live out Jesus’ absurd conviction that we are most secure, and most right with God, when we love our enemies.
It is that desire to be a witness for Christ that has led me to become a reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams. It is what has compelled me to be involved in the work of trying to save the lives of folks who are dying in the desert. It was what compelled me to become the Director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship with the hope of creating a corps of Presbyterians who will offer nonviolent accompaniment wherever sisters and brothers in our partner churches are at risk around the world.
Though I remain firm in that core commitment to offer positive, Christ-centered, alternatives to violence, I also believe that there are times when evil is so strong, and so interwoven into the fabric of our culture, that God demands that we rise up in protest.
For me, the moment to stand up and say “no” can no longer be avoided.
As followers of the Prince of Peace, how shall we respond when acts of terror are carried out against civilian populations, including our own? What are we to do when our own government embraces the use of force on our behalf? Nonviolent action, including Civil Disobedience, is the most effective way to live what we say we believe.
I feel fortunate to live in a country where there is a history of organized, nonviolent protest that is, by and large, respected and protected by our government. As I’ve watched the “Arab Spring” from afar over the last eight months, I’ve been moved as millions of people have embraced the strategies and tactics of nonviolence to advance their cause – even in the face of the greatest possible threat against their lives.
Many in that movement have looked to successes in nonviolent organizing and civil disobedience from around the world for both inspiration and instruction on nonviolence and civil disobedience. A graphic, comic book style illustration of the life and work of Dr. King, created by the Fellowship of Reconciliation was widely disseminated in Egypt during the uprising there earlier this year.
Over the past few weeks, several thousand people have been arrested in front of the White House in the protest against the Tar Sands pipeline, organized by environmental author Bill McKibben. McKibben pointed out that part of what is taking place, even in an arrest as carefully choreographed and carrying as little risk as this one, is that people of conscience who believe in the rule of law are both discovering and making public their own seriousness of purpose about a matter of great importance.
We are people of faith. We live in a country that values and protects the right of dissent. As we look back on the recent 10th anniversary of 9/11, we must face the hard truth that we are a people who live in fear, even while we live in the most militarily and economically powerful nation on earth – a dangerous combination.
The tactics of nonviolence – and the use of principled acts of civil disobedience – have never been more important than they are right now.