Nonviolence, Nonviolence

By Jesse Taylor
Thursday, March 25, 2010 21:16 EDT
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imageYou remember when Gandhi fought against the British occupation of India through a systematic program of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience? Of course you do, you got the Facebook invite.

Well, a moderately transformative health care bill takes effect in 2014, a full two electoral cycles after passage and during which its opponents have more than enough time to mobilize against it in a full and fair democratic process. Obviously, it’s time for some Gandhi shit.

It is hardly surprising then that Americans are feeling a growing panic as they watch their constitutional republic descend into a banana republic. President Obama is fond of quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s line that “we should be the change we want to see.” But Gandhi also said that “civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless and corrupt.” Americans instinctively understand this which is why pockets of resistance to ObamaCare are already emerging. The question is only whether they can be constructively harnessed into a grassroots, Gandhi-style civil disobedience movement powerful enough to undo this monstrosity.

So, to be clear: between 2001 and 2009, to cite one example, the executive branch of the country declared the power to unilaterally declare captives of the state “enemy combatants” and hold them without any available recourse to the Constitution or international treaties; in 2010, we passed a healthcare bill which requires you to purchase health insurance from any of hundreds of private insurers (maybe). As bad an idea as I think the mandate is, for a variety of reasons, this is like getting pissed at someone for bringing food in the bed when the house is on fire.

But let’s look at the shape this nonviolent civil disobedience takes:

Any strategy of nonviolent civil resistance has to first make a good faith effort to achieve its end through the available political and legal means. But there comes a time when changing the law requires acts of conscience.

For opponents of ObamaCare that time is Dec. 31, 2013. That’s when the individual mandate will go into effect. If ObamaCare hasn’t been repealed by Congress or nullified in court by then, its opponents would be justified in urging Americans to refuse to buy coverage or pay fines and dare authorities to come after them.

By some estimates, Uncle Sam will need to hire an additional 17,000 IRS agents or so just to enforce the coverage mandate. But even if a few million Americans simultaneously refuse to abide by it, they could easily overwhelm the system. Self-rule or swaraj, Gandhi said, requires a collective understanding of the immense capacity of citizens to “regulate and control” the coercive apparatus of the state through mass nonviolent resistance.

Let’s set something straight right now. Nonviolent civil disobedience is a powerful tool used to show that an oppressed people are mobilized and motivated to stand for their freedom against an oppressive and illegitimate power which is otherwise denying them the rights for which they are fighting. Its most famous applications are in colonial India, the Jim Crow South and apartheid-era South Africa. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela all understood that lawbreaking isn’t something you engage in simply because you don’t think the law is a good idea.

In other words, in the Olympics of Oppression, Tea Partiers are Malta. Twenty-first century America’s answer to the Indian subclass of the 1910s and 1920s consists of middle to upper-class members of the dominant racial and religious groups with an inordinate amount of political power, media coverage and one of the two major political parties in the most powerful country in the world begging at their feet. I now feel dumber for having written that. Not Liberal Fascism stupid or John Boehner stupid…but stupid.

If Teabaggers wonder why we think they’re crazy, or why they’re called Teabaggers, or why the going narrative is that they’re barely hinged loons who are dangerous ignorant about life, the universe and the meaning of everything, it’s this. The Tea Party may constitute the most privileged set of rebels in human existence. There is nothing they have to give up (except their weekends), no travails through which they must suffer; it’s like Star Wars, except Darth Vader gave Alderaan a series of tax credits and then revealed that his father was from Kenya.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
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