From this week’s reading assignment, I have just two points and a question. First, I will reexamine how King determines what makes disobedience civil. Then I will make an argument about segregation and tokenism as it regards immigration. The question I’ll leave you with is about whether we are in a time of sowing or reaping.

In contrasting the differences between civil- and uncivil-disobedience, Dr. King says:

“In disobeying such unjust laws, the students do so peacefully, openly and nonviolently. Most important, they willingly accept the penalty, whatever it is, for in this way the public comes to reexamine the law in question and will thus decide whether it uplifts or degrades man.

“This distinguishes their position on civil disobedience from the “uncivil disobedience” of the segregationist. In the face of laws they consider unjust, the racists seek to defy, evade and circumvent the law, and they are unwilling to accept the penalty. The end result of their defiance is anarchy and disrespect for the law. The students, on the other hand, believe that he who openly disobeys a law, a law conscience tells him is unjust, and then willingly accepts the penalty, gives evidence thereby that he so respects the law that he belongs in jail until it is changed. Their appeal is to the conscience.”

King lists the qualities of civil disobedience as: peaceful, open, nonviolent, and accepting of penalty. King lists the qualities of uncivil disobedience as: defiant, evasive, and circumventing of the law; and unaccepting of penalty. King lists the outcomes of civil disobedience as: public reexamination of the law, and increased respect for law. King lists the outcome of uncivil disobedience as: anarchy, and disrespect for law.

 

King’s lifelong fight was against a system that prevented all people from freely associating with those of a different race in all aspects of life. In the United States of America from (roughly) 1896 to 1965, that system was called segregation. In South Africa until the mid 1990s, that same system was called apartheid. In the United States of America, that exact system is called restricted immigration. I cannot freely associate with those who I choose to if the government tells them they do not have a legal right to be here. I think we should come up with a name for restricted migration that makes this reality clear. Perhaps the term “national segregation” could work. I’m not sure, what do you think?

 

Understanding restricted immigration as segregation makes clear that a system which gives a few people permission to enter the United States, while denying hundreds of thousands of others, is a system of tokenism. Tokenism is also giving amnesty to the undocumented immigrants currently living in the country while blocking the way for others. Ours, instead, “is total commitment to [the] goal of equality and dignity,” and not just for those currently here. This is why Reagan’s amnesty plan failed.

Abraham Lincoln and the Reconstruction Congress well understood this principle. Tokenism for them would have been emancipating a generation of slaves while maintaining the institutions of slavery and the slave trade. Our situation is no difference. We are not fighting for the Mexican; we are fighting for the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indian, the Irish, the Italian, the Mexican, and whatever ethnic group will come next. To paraphrase Dr. King, God is not interested in the freedom of movement of black men and brown men, but in the freedom of movement of all men. Our goal must be unrestricted migration, not just because it is necessary for democracy, but because it is morally compelling.

 

My question comes from this line. “The current breakthroughs have come about partly as a result of the patient legal, civil and social ground clearing of the previous decades.” While there has been social ground-clearing, there hasn’t been any legal ground clearing (not for 125 years at least). My questions are these. Would civil disobedience be premature right now? Does the legal have to preceed the social? Dr. King’s movement came after the major legal battle to end segregation (Brown v. Board). Is something similar required before civil disobedience will be effective and useful, especially given that disobedient immigrants are not jailed, they are deported? Civil disobedience is designed to change unjust laws. Dr. King used it to change unjust local laws that were out of compliance with newly implemented federal standards. Immigration law is an unjust federal law. Do we need to advance international law before we use civil disobedience to challenge the more local, federal laws?

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