Civil Disobedience is powerful because those engaged it in willingly accept the penalties the law imposes. That’s not how Proggies play the game, though.
About a year into my “career” as a blogger, the debate about the Solomon Amendment got me thinking about civil disobedience and the Proggie habit of eating its cake and having it. I think it’s worth quoting that old post in full:
The current debate [current, that is, in December 2005] about the Solomon Amendment, which is now being played out in the Supreme Court in the case of Rumsfeld v. F.A.I.R., had me thinking about modern civil disobedience. To catch you up, the Solomon Amendment, which was passed in the early 1990s, states that in order to receive Federal funding universities must allow military recruiters to have equal access to their campuses, along with other recruiters. If one branch of the campus refuses this access, the Federal government, in theory, is supposed to pull the entire financial plug on the University.
In recent years, certain law schools, dismayed by the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — which, I hasten to add, is the law of the land — have refused to allow military recruiters equal and convenient access to their student populations. Having allowed their law schools to take this stand, the relevant universities are now quite upset that the government wants to deny funding, and they have attacked the Solomon Amendment. In other words, the Universities find it just horrible that, having taken a stand against a valid law with which they disagree (the “Don’t Ask” policy), they’re now being forced to take the consequence (giving up money).
This scenario made me think about civil disobedience, which used to mean something very specific. Although civil disobedience has always been around, it was Henry David Thoreau, in the mid-19th Century, who best articulated the doctrine we now recognize.
Thoreau objected to a poll tax, because he felt the money was being improperly spent to support slavery and the war with Mexico. Rather than paying the tax, he took a principled stand, refused to pay the tax, and went to prison. His single night in jail [before his friends bailed him out] inspired him to write an essay about a citizen’s obligation to strike out against unjust laws — and to demonstrate the law’s invalidity through each citizen’s personal martyrdom.
In his essay, Thoreau ruminated about irritating laws versus unjust laws, and about vehicles for protesting the latter (e.g., the ballot box or a refusal to comply with an unjust law or a tax that supports something unjust). Significantly, Thoreau felt that such a principled stand gained weight from an attendant sacrifice, which is usually imprisonment:
Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her–the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. [Emphasis mine.]
The Twentieth Century saw two men, on different continents, who understood that, when a government acts unjustly, the strongest protest is to put yourself in the path of that unjust law, and have yourself punished: Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Had each not been willing to accept imprisonment, thereby demonstrating the manifest unfairness and immorality of the laws against which each struggled, neither would have even appeared as a footnote in the history books.
Nowadays, though, people break laws with impunity and to applause. I was most strongly reminded of this when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, in February 2004, suddenly announced that he was going to ignore California’s laws against same sex marriage, and have the City issue marriage licenses to all gay couples desiring them.
Newsom was a fifteen minute wonder. The Press oooh’ed and aaah’ed about his bravery. But, really, what was so brave? He wasn’t running any risks politically in San Francisco, where a critical mass of voters approve his step. He wasn’t running any risk of humiliation or ostracism, because he became the media’s darling. No one even mentioned prosecuting him for breaking the law, or impeaching him for violating his official obligations. It was a media stunt, but it wasn’t civil disobedience, because we didn’t get the spectacle of a righteous man felled by an unjust government.
The situation is the same with the various universities’ stand on the Solomon Amendment. If the Universities (and their faculty and staff) really wanted to draw attention to the problems with Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, they’d take the financial hit, and make themselves martyrs to the cause. Indeed, those liberal university professors could sacrifice their six digit salaries and three day work weeks to help the universities run without help from the federal trough.
That kind of public spectacle, that martyrdom to “tyranny,” would be effective, and would put umph behind the current preening. As it is, though, they want it all: they want to violate a U.S. law, but God forbid they should be denied access to U.S. money. This isn’t principled at all. This is sheer opportunism, without either moral and practical weight.
That’s what I wrote back in 2005. It’s relevant today because of the Proggie’s horrified reaction to the fact that a Missouri school district marked as truant those students who skipped class to attend an anti-gun protest:
Students at a Kansas City, Mo., high school who participated in a walkout to protest gun violence on Wednesday were marked truant and punished.
Only about 200 of Park Hill High School’s 2,000-person student body participated in the walkout as part of a larger series of student-led protests organized across the country, Fox 4 News in Kansas City reported.
But students were warned against doing so by teachers. Those who did participate were greeted by teachers in the school’s hallways when they returned. According to the report, some teachers were guarding the hallways and some doors were locked to keep students from re-entering.
One student who participated in the protest, Riley Peak, told Fox 4 that he was given the choice to do either a half-hour of detention after school or attend a disciplinary meeting after spring break.
I learned about the above because two Proggies on my Facebook page were outraged that the students suffered a consequence for their actions. I’m happy to say that Little Bookworm’s school, despite being located in ultra-Proggie Marin announced in advance that it would mark as truant those kids who left school for a protest — although it did add that it would have a “safe space” on the football field where the students could protest without risk to themselves. I don’t know if this was a Proggie initiative, or if the school was concerned that, should truant kids got hurt or hurt someone, the school district could be liable.
Basically, Proggies want to eat their cake and have it. Headscarf wearing Muslim women, instead of accepting that they will be unable to participate in some things, demand that the world bend to them. Abercrombie, which was once a market force and thankfully is no more, had to dilute its brand so that, instead of sleek young sales clerks dressed in anything but modest clothes (thereby matching the embarrassing, almost pornographic shopping bags), were suddenly joined by sales girls draped like nuns. I loath Abercrombie, but it’s entirely wrong for the state to impose upon it the obligation to hire people who force it to change standards that are open to anyone who wants to dress like a jaded hooker.
The old social compact in America was that people who wanted to engage in political protest could do so freely in the public square, but they might have to stand up and take punishment for other laws they violate — such as being jailed for refusing to pay taxes or marked truant for skipping school. Religiously, the old compact was that people were free to relate to God in their chosen way, without fear that the government would override the dictates of their conscience or force them to tithe money (in the form of taxes) to a government-established religion.
That is, as long as your religion didn’t violate basic Western criminal norms (human sacrifice, assault, the prohibition against monogamy, etc.), the government would leave you alone — and you would leave it alone. You were free to vote your conscience in the polling booth, and the government could not infringe on your core religious principles (such as forcing pacifists into battle), but you could not force the government to bow down to practices in your faith that were related to ritual or tradition.
And then of course, there’s the fact that the government is not supposed to take sides in political battles. The Proggies are like Turkey’s Erdogan in this regard. He famously said (and I’m paraphrasing) that Democracy is like a train — you use it until you get to your destination and then you, and the train, come to a stop.
The Proggies were all for neutral public schools when it came to getting God out of the classroom, but they’ve abandoned neutrality in favor of encouraging all public schools to enforce an anti-Second Amendment agenda. That’s how we get stories such as this one:
A Rocklin High School teacher is on paid administrative leave over her views about the national school walk out. The teacher says all she did was open up a debate about the politics of the protest in her classroom.
Mrs. Benzel teaches history at Rocklin High School.
She says it was only appropriate to talk to her class about the politics of organized protests, ahead of the school walkout.
But she says the school disagreed with her views and told her to stay home Wednesday morning.
“We had a dialogue in class about it in Thursday and Friday. And today I received the call. So I am aghast,” said Julianne Benzel.
Benzel says she never discouraged her students from participating in the national school walk out, but she did question whether it’s appropriate for a school to support a protest against gun violence if they’re not willing to support all protests.
“And so I just kind of used the example which I know it’s really controversial, but I know it was the best example I thought of at the time—a group of students nationwide, or even locally, decided ‘I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes’ and go in the quad area and protest abortion, would that be allowed by our administration?” she said.
She says the administration didn’t talk to her about her lecture, last week.
But while thousands of students walked out of class, Mrs. Benzel received a letter from her human resources department, informing her she’s being placed on paid administrative leave.
“I didn’t get any backlash from my students. All my students totally understood that there could not be a double standard,” she said.
Including Nick Wade, who didn’t walk out.
“I feel like if we were to go to school and say something like I want to walk out maybe for abortion rights, then you know they probably wouldn’t let us because that’s more of a conservative push. But someone wants to say let’s walk out for gun control then the school’s going to go with it because it’s more of a popular view,” said Wade.
The Rocklin School District won’t say whether his teacher is in trouble, because of that classroom debate.
Assuming the facts are as stated above, I would put the teacher back in the classroom and fire every single school administrator. She is absolutely right that, if a public school decides that students may skip class to join political protests, it cannot favor some protests over others.
I love the Bill of Rights. And I hate the way Proggies use it to their advantage, abuse it when it’s not to their advantage, and never have to face the music, in a classic civil disobedience way, when their allegedly “principled” opposition runs afoul of the law.