It’s been a good week for get out of jail cards — just don’t let anybody tell you they’re free.
At the beginning of the week, I had two lots of friends who were facing the prospect of spending this weekend in jail. One set in South Dakota facing sentencing for draping a banner on Mt Rushmore reminding Obama that history honors leaders, not politicians, and his chance to make history is in turning the tide on climate change. In Denmark, the Red Carpet Four had already served 20 days in jail without trial, across Christmas and New Years, with no visitation rights. They were being punished, in effect, for making monkeys of Danish security when they breezed into a Head of State dinner hosted by the Queen. A limousine, a Tux, an off-the-rack dress, and a motorcade with the Greenpeace logo and the words “Planetary Emergency, Authorized Personnel” on it was all it took to get an audience with 120 world leaders, whom they asked to drop the caviar forks, put a cork in the champagne, and go make a climate treaty.
In both cases, prosecutors likened the activists, in words or deeds, to terrorists. Threats to democracy. Law breakers.
Law Breakers? We’ll take that. But terrorists they are not, and when it comes to Democracy, those who take up civil disobedience in the name of a cause are Democracy’s champions, not its enemies.
Rosa Parks was not a terrorist. Gandhi was not a terrorist. Law is made when law is broken, and truly big change seldom happens from within the system. Somebody has to throw the tea overboard to get things moving.
Right now, our elected leaders are failing to address the gravest threat our world has ever faced. The longer the inaction prevails, the more action we’re going to see by civil society. More and more people, mostly, but not all, young, will choose to take non-violent direct action — because civil disobedience is a last resort. It’s what a movement does when the legal channels have been exhausted. When the courts and the politicians and the corporates have been asked, and failed to respond. The people who make that choice are not criminals. They’re heroes.
I found it somewhat ironic that in the case of the Mt Rushmore folks, most were given sentences that involved community service. Now that’s a case where the punishment fits the crime. Because in fact, a community service is exactly what they rendered when they raised their voices, as big as a mountain, to let Obama know that we’re not the only ones watching — the future is.
And when the history of climate change is written, the real criminals will be outed, and they were not the folks who faced the possibility of jail this weekend.