Thursday, October 19, 2006

Civil Disobedience, Not So Much

Via Powerline, I learn of an incident at Columbia two weeks ago regarding students disrupting a public presentation by Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project. As they say, let's go to the tape:

Powerline links to an article in yesterday's Insider Higher Ed, which contains a number of sensible statements by people at Columbia regarding the students' behavior. But it also includes this passage:

However, another observer of protest rights on campuses said that the students were well within their rights to go onstage. “The students had a right to unfurl banners at an event,” said Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, a liberal bar association that has supported the protestors. “Some people have asked, ‘Well, was it crossing the line to go up on the stage?’”

“I don’t think that’s crossing the line.”

“We don’t think they caused the violence; they weren’t going to stop Gilchrist from speaking; they just wanted to stand there and hold their banner while he spoke,” Boghosian said.

“In addition to a crack-down on dissent in this country, there seems to be a waning tolerance for civil disobedience. If you want, you can call the act of jumping on the stage an act of civil disobedience, a practice that has been used for hundreds of years in this country to resist tyranny,” said Boghosian, who added that she believed the university would likely have given the students just a “slap on the wrist” if the situation had not turned violent.
You can call that civil disobedience, but only if you don't really care about the meaning of civil disobedience and in fact want to trivialize over a hundred years of struggle against genuine oppression.

What the students did was clearly not civil, but more importantly, it was not disobedient. Don't confuse rudeness with disobedience. To disobey is to refuse to abide a dictate imposed by an authority. There was no such imposition here. The students were not being compelled to obey, they were being invited to listen. The inability to distinguish is a sad commentary not just on current events, but on our current appreciation of those who did resist nonviolently--at great peril to themselves--in the name of just causes.

1 comment:

Kerry said...

I would be MORTIFIED if that happened at my alma mater.

When I was in college, I recognized that, regardless of political affiliation, the best way to get people to agree with you is not to stand in the street, scream, and block traffic....

the best way to create a following of college students is to pass out food with your pamphlets. Have a barbecue...serve beer. Then I'll sit down and listen to what you have to say.