When the founding fathers of the United States of America drafted our Constitution, they did something I find impressive. They set up a system to limit what government could do. This shows a great deal of humility, in my opinion, because they were basically saying, ‘Here are some things we can’t do.’ They didn’t say, ‘The congress after ours shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, but since we’re the ones to make up this government, this generation is wise enough to decide what speech should be abridged and what speech should be free.’ By saying ‘These things government will not do,’ they were actually saying ‘These things we will not do.’

Beyond this, the founders created a way (within the government) for their generation or any other, to change any aspect or even the very core of what our government is.

When thinking about this, I’ve been struck with how much humility it must have required them in order to approach what they were doing this way. And I’ve also come to believe that a similar humility usually accompanies the greatest of ideas.

For instance, I’m reading Satyagraha by Mohandas Gandhi right now. It gets into the philosophy of non-violent non-cooperation much more than his autobiography does (which I read last year). Like the founding fathers, Gandhi set up a system of checks in case his ideas were wrong. For instance, non-violence was insisted upon, partly because it was a check against error. If a person believed passionately that s/he was doing the right thing, but in fact wasn’t, the method of non-violence insured that no injury was done to anyone but the person him/herself. In civil disobedience, the practitioner was always required to submit him/herself to jail, rather than trying to avoid the penalties of breaking the law–even though the broken law was done without motivation for personal gain, and was seen as breaking a law that—because it was unjust—was no law at all (St. Augustine’s words). This was done in order that no person became, as Gandhi put it, “a law unto himself.”

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I want to create a nonviolent movement to advance the right for humans to change their home and allegiance, effectively turning the clock back 124 years the last time we had non-racist immigration policy.

Nonviolent direct action provides me what I want. First, I want the freedom to be radical if I think I ought to be. (And by radical, I mean unconcerned with the mainstream. Radical, as I see it, is entirely defined by the mainstream.) But more importantly than that, I want to be right. I want truth. Truth, after all, is what Jesus said would make us free. Nonviolent direct action is a method completely aligned to the notion of the humility of great ideas.

So what will this movement look like? Well, first off, I want to start a study group in Matamoros. We will read Gandhi and King primarily, but may read others like John Lewis, Thoreau, Thich Nhat Hanh, and of course Jesus of Nazareth. From this reading group, we will select a corps of satyagrahis who will illegally immigrate to the United States. Those to participate in the civil disobedience campaign will be carefully selected based on several criteria (never having tried to immigrate illegally, having applied and been rejected for immigration prior to involvement with our campaign, a history of community service, employability in critical needs sectors of the economy-like teachers and nurses, among other criteria). These activists will be trained in nonviolence, sign pledges of nonviolence, be organized, etc., like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee members of the 1950’s and 1960’s were. We will conduct thorough criminal background checks and immunization checkups on every individual. We will write short biographies on each of the participants and will invite the local and national press to do the same. Then we will notify the border patrol, local law enforcement, and press of our intention to cross the international border without permission. At a set time and date we will cross the border illegally and await apprehension. At that point, we will argue our case in court, but will encourage all undocumented workers to submit to the law in a civil way.

These ideas are way too untried and untested, and I welcome their modification, but that is what the nonviolent reading group is all about. For those committed to the human right of migration, and committed to the practice and philosophy of nonviolent direct action, I eagerly await their amendments to my ideas.

The humility of great ideas also affects how we will fundraise. Even that will be set up not to expedite our ends, but to check our ends and our means. For instance, in funding his movement in South Africa, Gandhi initially used donations to purchase a property for the purpose of leasing it and using the residual income to fund the month to month operations of the movement, but he later abandoned this practice as a mistake. He said that in social movements, no endowment should be amassed, and no residual income used, nor even should benefactors be allowed to make a pledge to contribute on a regular basis; but a movement should instead rely each month on the contributions it received that very month.

This, of course, does not make any financial sense, but Gandhi said that it was necessary in order to place a check on the movement. A social institution should always be doing the will of the people and one way to ensure that is to make it rely continually on the people for its financial support. Mother Teresa did the exact same thing, and both she and Gandhi regularly turned down money, despite not knowing how they would fund their next projects. Jesus taught a powerful lesson about financing when he taught the parable of the widow’s mite. If in addition to the lessons of finance taught by Gandhi and Mother Teresa, we adopt a widow’s-mite policy and a don’t-let-the-left-hand-know-what-the-right-hand-is-doing policy, we place a very heavy check on our movement.

I’ll discuss these two principles in a later post.

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