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ViewPoint:Opinions
Commentary
On Civil Disobedience and Stupidity
Anti-War Groups Confuse Idiocy for Act of Protest in Saturday's Arrests
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 09/17/2007 4:55 PM ET
Adam Kokesh of the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) becomes the first to step across the police barricades in an organized show of protest against the war.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty
Adam Kokesh of the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) becomes the first to step across the police barricades in an organized show of protest against the war.

The 192 arrests at Saturday's anti-war demonstration in Washington were part of a deliberate operation of what organizers refer to as "civil disobedience"--a plan that had to be altered late in the day after Capitol Hill police did not seem likely to begin a mass sweep in response to the groups' original actions, IraqSlogger has learned.

Further, the anti-war groups consider the tactic a success and say it will likely be employed at future demonstrations.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War and their supporters take up position to die on the steps leading up to the Capital building, September 15, 2007.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
The Iraq Veterans Against the War and their supporters take up position to "die" on the steps leading up to the Capital building, September 15, 2007.

The ANSWER Coalition took the lead in organizing the event, as it has done for most of the major demonstrations that have occupied the mall about twice yearly since the 2003 invasion. Arrests are not uncommon at anti-war marches, though rarely number more than a dozen or so.

Arrests always generate media coverage, however, which led the planner's of Saturday's march to consider facilitating the situation.

The initial idea, suggested by members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, was to stage a "die-in" on the steps of the Capital building.

Protesters have been taken into custody at previous demonstrations for sitting down and blocking walkways, so it was thought that police would move in with the flexi-cuffs once the group lay down to "die."

Adam Kokesh of IVAW and Medea Benjamin of CodePink watch as those preparing to cross the police barricades line up.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
Adam Kokesh of IVAW and Medea Benjamin of CodePink watch as those preparing to cross the police barricades line up.
Organizers did not expect Capital Police to view the mass repose with only mild interest.

After it became clear police had no intention of moving into the crowd to begin cuffing a mass of people who appeared to be napping peacefully, protest organizers decided to adopt a more aggressive approach.

The groups had declared the theme of the week's planned anti-war activities to be: "Protesting is not enough," to underscore their plan to take more "direct action."

It was getting to be late in the afternoon, around 4:00, and organizers knew time was getting short if they wanted to do something to make a bold statement.

"We had to put ourselves in an arrestable situation," one organizer told Iraqslogger.

Adam Kokesh of Iraq Vets Against the War briefs his colleagues on the revised arrest plan as members of the ANSWER coalition look on.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
Adam Kokesh of Iraq Vets Against the War briefs his colleagues on the revised arrest plan as members of the ANSWER coalition look on.
ANSWER organizers conferred with IVAW and Code Pink leaders, but it was reportedly the Iraq Veterans who first suggested stepping across the police barricades to invite arrest.

Adam Kokesh, the unofficial leader of IVAW, briefed his group on the new plan, and the vets began to assemble themselves in a single-file line to prepare for an orderly breach of police barricades.

When everyone looked ready to go, Kokesh stood and walked down the stone wall separating the police from the sea of protesters.

A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.
The crowd erupted in deafening applause as Kokesh raised his arms and turned to face down the police (see above), maintaining his balance on the wall for only a few seconds before he was in police custody.

Kokesh's dramatic flourish energized the crowd, which cheered on as one Iraq vet after another mounted the wall and slowly ambled their way into police custody.

Medea Benjamin of CodePink and other ladies dressed in a shock of fuschia helped boost the vets onto the wall to maintain a quick pace, keeping the police busy with new detainees.

A dozen or more Iraq vets were followed by a handful of Vietnam ones, but then a stream of supporters followed their lead as more anti-war protesters walked the wall to jump the police barricades and be arrested "in solidarity" with the vets.

A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.

Some agitators in the crowd weren't content with the orderliness of the demonstration, and pushed to knock down the barricades, though police managed to maintain the perimeter.

By the end of the day, Capitol police had arrested almost 200 protesters, charging them with crossing a police barrier--a misdemeanor--and fining them each $100.

Overall, the protesters' act of "civil disobedience" generated almost $20,000 in revenue for the police. For the anti-war groups, it achieved a point almost as muddled as their thinking.

ANSWER describes the planned die-in as "one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in recent years," and says that protesters "were arrested when they tried to deliver their anti-war message to Congress and were stopped by the police."

Medea Benjamin of Code Pink shouts to keep the line of those volunteering for arrest flowing toward the front line.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink shouts to keep the line of those volunteering for arrest flowing toward the front line.
One would expect peace activists to possess expertise on the substance and meaning of civil disobedience--historically an important and often potentially dangerous act of defiance against the ruling powers of a state--but getting arrested to "make a point" does not equal "civil disobedience."

Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1849 treatise on the subject, "If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law."

But Thoreau did not advocate the breaking of any law--only the ones perceived to be the basis for injustice. He would refuse to pay the poll tax, for example, but would willingly pay other taxes he viewed as valid.

Thoreau's philosophical writings heavily influenced the non-violent resistance movements of the 20th century, and were regularly cited by Martin Luther King, Jr. as playing a role in his thinking.

A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.
Highlights of civil disobedience in King's era include Rosa Parks' arrest for sitting down in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama public bus, or the brave men and women who defied "whites only" regulations at lunch counters in the South.

While King insisted unjust laws should be defied, he also strongly urged his followers to maintain their respect for the rule of law in general.

King wanted to protect the social fabric from the chaos that could result from irresponsible actions getting out of control, and his own movement from being torn apart by a lack of discipline.

The only way Saturday's arrest-a-palooza could be considered an act of civil disobedience would be if the barriers preventing the crowds from approaching the Capitol building had been an unjust intrusion on the rights of the people.

A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
A member of Iraq veterans against the war walks the wall towards his arrest at the anti-war protest on Capital Hill September 15, 2007.

But there was absolutely nothing unjust about protecting the building from the thousands of people gathered, just as there is nothing unjust with Congress requiring observers to keep quiet during public hearings--another favored act of "civil disobedience" by anti-war groups.

The organizers of Saturday's march considered the "civil disobedience" to have been such a success that they're already talking about how to get arrested at the next demonstration--tentatively planned for sometime in the Spring.

IraqSlogger would like to suggest that since volunteering for arrest is more symbolic than real civil disobedience, perhaps the next event should keep the arrests symbolic as well.

Twenty-thousand dollars buys the Capitol Police many more zip-ties and barricades, but an organization like the Iraqi Red Crescent could use the money to buy food, potable water, and critical medicines for those suffering as a result of the war.

Breaking a law that has little or no relevance to the cause of injustice is not "civil disobedience." When it costs thousands of dollars that could be better spent feeding the real victims of that injustice, it is, however, stupid.

Anti-war protesters arrested for crossing the barricades at Saturday's protest line-up and wait to be taken upstairs for processing.
Christina Davidson/IraqSlogger
Anti-war protesters arrested for crossing the barricades at Saturday's protest line-up and wait to be taken upstairs for processing.

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