Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Road To Freedom Is Paved With Disobedience

You have most likely broken the law. As you sit there right now, reading this, you are probably doing or have done something recently that has transgressed some statute, some rule of government. You haven’t done anything to harm another, you haven’t stolen or damaged the property of another, and yet it is likely that those who rule over you have written some words down on a piece of paper somewhere, called it a law, and now they expect you to know this and obey its dictates. The absurdity of this system is clear for all to see, and yet you are at the mercy of those who call themselves “servants” of the people but then act as if they are the masters. They are a frightening group of people and if they set their sites on you, for whatever reason, you will end up being punished in some way.

If you have somehow violated some “code” (a very appropriate word for small details to a larger law or set of laws since normal English speaking people can’t understand much of what is written and only those well versed in the arcane language known as “legalese” have any idea of the “code’s” true meaning) then perhaps you have only to pay a small fine and the mean, nasty government people will leave you alone. Most of us ordinary folks simply pay these fines without question, even though we resent them, for a couple of reasons. First off, most of us realize that if we try to fight such a fine it will end up costing us more in time and money than if we just pay it, and then we might have to pay the original fine in addition anyway. Secondly, most of us realize that if we try to ignore the fine that eventually the government gang will catch up to you, perhaps kidnap and throw you in a confined space known as a jail cell, and make you stand before some guy in a black robe (who is paid by and owes his allegiance to the state) and explain to him why you were so rude and ignored their requests for money.

Should you find yourself in the grasp of government agents or in one of their courtrooms pleading with one of their judges don’t try to use the excuse that you didn’t know you were breaking a law. They don’t care. Of course you didn’t know you were breaking a law, how could you possibly know all the laws that have been written? It is a human impossibility. No one could possibly know what all the laws not only because so many have been written, but they are in a constant state of flux. What’s legal one day can be illegal the next and vice versa. Yet these people, when you stand before them, will tell you that ignorance of the law is no excuse. That may have worked when the law was simple and only involved other human beings as victims, but when it only involves state entities as the complaining parties then it should not only be an excuse, it should be understandable and expected.

Another thing that one might consider is why one should believe that any given politician wouldn’t use his power to try to punish someone he didn’t like, or try to force someone with a divergent viewpoint to change his behavior. Perhaps one used to think the justice system could be used to keep such power crazed politicians in check, and perhaps at one time long ago when supposedly many judges were principled one would be right. But judges are fallible humans also. They can not only tell who butters their bread, they can also be bought and sold when necessary. While I’m certain that principled judges do exist, I’d just as soon they didn’t have to depend upon government to earn their paychecks when their job entails having to mediate a case that might have some impact upon that very paycheck. Until and unless viable free market arbitration and dispute resolution systems evolve, we need some form of check to see that the courts remain fair and unbiased.

One such check was supposed to be the press. Media outlets and journalists were supposed to have free rein to report on the happenings in the public sphere. This, in my humble opinion, is necessary to help ensure that corruption in the system is kept to a minimum, that the populace is informed as to the actions of their public servants, that those working with the public trust are held accountable for their actions, and that individuals’ rights are respected at all levels of government. Denying access of modern reporting technology such as video cameras and recording devices into public venues only serves to impede this necessary check to power.

In Illinois, a state more socialist than others, even still cameras are not allowed into the public buildings which house the courtrooms, let alone the courtrooms themselves. If one tries to enter a court building with so much as a camera phone that person is denied entrance and usually has to go back to their car to put it safely away. Such restrictions only make it more difficult for the ordinary person to make an accurate appraisal of how well the justice system is working. In Illinois, we are forced to depend on artists’ renditions of the participants and the accuracy of reporters’ memories and notes as twenty first century technology is not allowed to record the public events taking place inside these sacred venues and so the nuances of voice inflection and facial expression are lost to the common man’s interpretation of the event.

In New Hampshire this is not so. In New Hampshire not only are cameras and recording devices allowed in the courtrooms, it is a right supposedly protected by their state constitution. It should be protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution, in my opinion. “Congress shall make no law prohibiting freedom of the press,” it says in effect. In Keene, New Hampshire, however, a judge tried to abridge this right by writing a proclamation that video recording would not be allowed in the building. Unlike the state of Illinois where the people seem willing to obey any dictate without question, some New Hampshire residents seem to have more backbone. One resident, a Mr. SamIam, decided to challenge the dictate posted, unsigned, in the Keene courthouse. He decided to disobey the orders which he felt were unlawful and was promptly arrested along with five others who quickly showed up to support his efforts.

As I write this, SamIam still sits in a jail cell to the best of my knowledge. He was busted for disobeying a judge and trying to exercise his first amendment rights. Now he’s exercising his fifth amendment right to remain silent and has been told he will remain in jail indefinitely until he decides to cooperate with his jailors and recognize their authority over him. This violates his sixth amendment right to a speedy and public trial. His disobedience continues. Unfortunately, it seems to me that government folks believe disobedience is the worst crime possible. Apparently it is punishable by life in prison. How dare anyone disobey? How dare anyone question their authority? How dare a man claim he has rights that need to be respected by government AND try to exercise those rights? This befuddles and angers the government authorities and the only way they can figure out how to deal with it is through violence and imprisonment.

Throughout history it has been shown that peaceful disobedience is a valid way of gaining more freedom. We were shown this by such historical figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 1960s during the civil rights movement tens or hundreds of thousands of activists with a little more melanin in their skin bravely disobeyed laws in the face of violent opposition from just as many angry persons of less melanin. Those common folks of darker skin peacefully sat at lunch counters and marched through streets as the lighter skinned folks screamed nasty epithets and even at times physically attacked them. These brave folks for the most part grit their teeth and did not retaliate. This led to the recognition that these folks were in fact human and entitled to the same respect for their rights as any other human, which overturned many laws that had been enacted by certain states at that time.

More Americans need to follow the examples these brave folks have shown us. We need to disobey and question unjust laws. We need to exercise our rights at every opportunity, otherwise they may atrophy like an unused muscle in the body politic. By simply obeying without question the populace becomes sheep like and allows those who would rule to stop respecting the rights of individuals and become tyrannical. As the police state grows those who would obey simply shrug their shoulders and go along to get along. How different would history and the world be if a few more Germans in the 1930s had been disobedient? We have tried electing different groups of people into government and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We have tried working within the system and it seems no one is listening. The time has come to stop simply grumbling and complaining about injustices and to do something about it. The time has come to stop funding bad policies. The time has come to once again practice some peaceful civil disobedience to reclaim our freedoms, or at least to support those who are brave enough to do so.

By: RA

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