On Civil Disobedience

On Civil Disobedience

INCREASED agitation this year by those devoted to pacifism or to racial equality often resulted in civil disturbance. Planned demonstrations sometimes were, and frequently bordered upon, vioIations of local or federal laws. More common still was the jarring of mass proprieties. At their best, the agitators had foreseen what sort of no-man’s land they would enter, and charted the consequences of possible friction with group standards. Ideally, they had predicted all the ramifications for inner morality and outer effectiveness.

Those who went on peace walks, those who joined groups of Negroes to sit in Southern restaurants committed the minimum affronts. Although within their rights as citizens, they still faced community displeasure and sometimes arrest under local interpretations of the law. The maximum violations were achieved by those who had purposefully set out to break ordinances which they thought involved, or implemented, injustice. Such a one is Ken Calkins, who took action in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to oppose construction of the first ICBM launching base in America. After trying by conversation and Ieafiets to persuade workers to leave their jobs, Calkins and a few companions sat down in a roadway to block construction equipment being moved to the site. Time after time the resisters were carried or dragged from the road by the truck drivers—sometimes considerately and sometimes with kicks. Their obstruction ended abruptly with arrest for all and hospitalization for Calkins, who was run over by a truck which a foreman had ordered to keep moving.

Calkins acted as a member of the Peacemakers, a small band who struggle against their country’s military establishments. Following the most extreme methods of Gandhi and what they believe to be the ideas set forth by Thoreau in “On Civil Disobedience,” they practice and advise non-registration for the draft and nonpayment of taxes to the war-making state. Probably they would recognize their most vital text for civil disobedience in Thoreau’s solution for unjust laws: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go… If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.” Certainly, counter friction was never more literally applied than by Calkins.


Lima