gandhi


Judy Ackerman Protesting at Rio Bosque

EL PASO – A 55-year-old Army veteran hunkered down in front of construction crews who were building the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday, halting work for about eight hours before she was arrested.

Judy Ackerman, one of about a dozen people at a peaceful protest east of El Paso on Wednesday, was handcuffed by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers after several hours of figuring out which authority was responsible for removing her. It wasn’t clear what charges she’d face.

Work on the fence resumed immediately after Ms. Ackerman was led away. Before her arrest, the white-haired woman sporting a reflective vest and hard hat cheerfully chatted with authorities. About 20 workers were milling around the site, leaning against heavy equipment and dump trucks and taking pictures of her with their cellphones.

“They have a job to do, but today their job is to take a break,” said Ms. Ackerman, a retired sergeant major who spent 26 years in the Army.

She crossed a canal before workers arrived and took up a position on a levee where large steel poles were being erected. The levee is in a desolate area several miles east of downtown El Paso, near the 370-acre Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.

“They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up,” Ms. Ackerman said.

She was on land maintained by the International Boundary and Water Commission. Al Riera, the principal engineer for the commission, said officials were notified about her presence early Wednesday and spent several hours trying to figure out what agency should remove her.

The Associated Press

www.vmlaw.us

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Once again, I have to point you in the direction of a friend of mine who wrote an excellent article entitled, “Duty Free.”

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Stop the wall this spring break. 

A year and a half ago, Border Ambassador Jay Johnson-Castro went on a 15 day walk through the Texas communities that will be affected if the Secure Fence Act of 2006—already federal law—becomes a reality.  His walk, which he undertook basically alone, was covered by the BBC[1] and other international media, as well as multiple articles in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express News.[2]  Hearing of the walk, Republican Governor Rick Perry (a proponent of the wall) held a press conference about border security in the tiny community of Rio Grande City while Jay was walking through town.

Why would one man require a response from such a powerful person?  Why would Governor Perry even care about one Don Quixote-like figure plodding through the long stretches of nothingness?  Why would the Houston Chronicle give its front page as a pulpit for a solitary nobody doing something so crazy?  These questions have elusive answers, but those familiar with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s are better equipped to make sense of them than most.  Two clues are found in familiar phrases from that generation.  “Unearned suffering is redemptive,” which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often said, and “You got to move,” a favorite phrase of the Highlander Folk School—who trained Rosa Parks and others—have oriented my understanding of why a walk can be so powerful.

Following that motto, “You got to move,” this spring break—from March 8th to the 16th—local educators and students, along with religious and civic leaders will walk 115 miles (13 miles each day for 9 days) from Roma to Brownsville as a form of nonviolent direct action.  We invite you to partner with us in an alternative spring break, by following this link.  http://www.mysignup.com/noborderwallwalk  There you will make a commitment to participate and input your information.  We will then contact you with the necessary details.

The purpose of this walk is to show support for local landowners who do not want to give the Army Corps of Engineers access to their property.  These landowners are facing litigation by the U.S. Government, and are acting very courageously in spite of this threat.  Many more landowners would resist the government if they knew they were supported.  A second purpose is to gain the attention of the nation, especially during this election year.

Through today’s New York Times,[3] land owner Eloisa Tamez’s plan for resistance was shared with a national audience.  Eloisa works closely with Jay Johnson-Castro in the fight to prevent this wall from segregating our community, but she isn’t the only land owner along the proposed fence route.  Now is the time to share her story, Jay’s story, and spread the message of our collective struggle.  Please join us and invite your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same.

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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It’s been a long time since we lived the idea that people are innately good. Just laws, the kind of legislation our country was founded upon, enable and protect the innate goodness of the individual against the circumstantial evils of a few. Unjust laws, however, demean this innate goodness by making criminals out of innocents. The country with the most laws is the most corrupt.

 

Unjust laws of citizenship can be explained by the fixation of American culture on the unpredictable, “evil” nature of people rather than the more common goodness of the individual. Fear, or terror, born out of a single event one September, has come to shape not only our war policy but also the way we internally police our nation and stalk our borders.

 

It’s been a long time since we remembered that people are good.

 

King writes it this way: “We have allowed our civilization to outdistance our culture…Civilization refers to what we use; culture refers to what we are…” America needs, has in fact always needed, immigrants and new citizens to keep its economy and culture vital. But throughout our history, from the Alien Act of 1798 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the citizenship literacy test of 1917 and the first nation-based “emergency” quota system of 1921, our country has operated in a schizophrenic manner, not wanting or welcoming the very immigrants which made it great. The Know-Nothing party, created for the sole purpose of opposing my immigrant ancestors the Irish Catholics, lives on in the Minutemen and now the inglorious border wall. We have consistently despised the very things which make us strong. It was only the innate goodness of man, coupled with divine Providence, that these opposing forces never gained the upper hand and tyrannically ended immigration

 

“The great problem confronting us today is that we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live.” As a nation, America is materialistically wealthy but spiritually poor, full of knowledge but too often without wisdom. Capitalism, with its unseen hand of the marketplace, does whatever it can to keep the prices down and sales up; as a result, low-wage labor provided by immigrants has become an integral part of our national GDP. American citizens defend their rights as consumers but too often lose sight of the ends for which we live. As King writes, “As long as there is poverty in this wold, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars.” In the same vein, no one can be a citizen if there is someone living within our borders who is denied the basic rights of other residents.

 

It’s been too long since we made legislation which affirms the fact that man, made in God’s own image, is good and deserving of certain inalienable rights, alien or not.

 

IN this world of globalization, we must realize that the tenets this country was based upon do not apply merely to the continental U.S. but to the world at large. Globalization must have regulations, indeed, but we are hopelessly interconnected now so that the fate of one “illegal” immigrant is the fate of so many others. This new concept of the world begs a revised definition of the term “citizen;” how much longer can our nation exist with its double-standard for citizenship, with its 14 million right-less residents working to sustain the rights and wealth of the rest of our nation. We must come to terms that the way our nation stands right now, my rights are secured because someone else’s are denied; my paycheck is buoyed by the sub-standard wages of illegal immigrants we economically need and legislatively condemn.

 

It’s been too long since we recalled the goodness in our fellow man, in the global community, in our bordering neighbors, in all our residents of this great land.

 

The American dream reminds us that every man is heir to the legacy of worthiness.” And so, we must conclude that a nation which holds tight to restrictive, antiquated quote systems has forgotten the worth of the individual. We must reason that a nation which closes Ellis Island, hunts immigrants, and deports workers must not view people as an asset any longer, but as a burden. Far from being overpopulated, our nation’s immigration legislation heralds the arrogant notion that we already have everyone we need within our borders. But we know better than that. We must “in-source” ideas from Gandhi’s India, ideas about the importance of man and nonviolence. We must remember that people are good, not goods or commodities or without rights.

 

It’s been too long since we remembered the goodness of which we are capable and the means by which every one of us arrived at our blessed rights.

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Characteristics of Just and Unjust Laws

About halfway through this speech, Dr. King states that an unjust law, which we have a moral duty to disobey, “is a code that the majority inflicts on the minority that is not binding on itself.” MLK describes this as “difference made legal.” Let us take this idea and apply it to the situation of the paperless people in this country. Doing so will help us understand exactly what it is we should be working for.

Is the illegality of undocumented people a result of a code that the majority inflicts upon them that is not binding on itself? Yes. In essence the majority says, “You have to get permission to be in this country; I don’t. I can reside and work and exercise politically as a matter of natural right; you can’t.” I believe Dr. King would say that this legal distinction, based upon the “immutable characteristic, arbitrary from a moral point of view,” (Rawls words), constitutes a prime example of an unjust law. Just as under Jim Crow law, some were legally discriminated against by others because of the difference in the color of skin between the two groups, the whole idea of an “illegal immigrant” is one based on the idea of legal discrimination based on the difference in the place of birth between the two groups. So I think our goal should be to abolish the semi-slave status of “illegal immigrant” by recognizing that all people have equal claim to live where they want.

King goes on to say “An unjust law is a code which the majority inflicts upon the minority, which that minority had no part in enacting or creating, because that minority had no right to vote in many instances, to that the legislative bodies that made these laws were not democratically elected.” Because democracy is a system of government that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, the Constitution doesn’t limit voting rights only to citizens. In fact, there is basically no Constitutional distinction between the rights of citizens and non-citizens. It could be argued (though I will leave it for another day) that because those excluded by immigration laws were denied the right to vote as to what the immigration laws would be, these laws are unjust and non-democratic. Given MLK’s standards for just and unjust laws, the goal we should have for this movement is to actualize the right of free migration.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

 

Nonviolence

Having identified immigration restrictions based on place of birth as unjust, Dr. King, I believe, would advocate our challenging this unjust system of segregation. But, “the means must be as pure as the end.” Dr. King talked about three competing approaches to social change. The first approach is resignation. Almost all people use this method to deal with injustice. They learn to adjust to injustice. The second approach, to “[rise] up against the oppressor with corroding hatred and physical violence,” is advocated by some today. As those who want to use nonviolence to bring about a free and equal society, we must not associate ourselves with either of these two methods. Just as Dr. King rejected the methods of Malcolm X, we must be very selective about how we will approach immigration reform. This is important because nonviolence is based in part on the idea that “the end is preexistent in the means.” Thus violence cannot (not just should not, but cannot) create a positive change. This is also true of “internal violence of spirit,” of hatred, and dehumanization. When we vilify those who oppose us or who debase and dehumanize undocumented people, we dehumanize them. We can never see them as our enemy, but as our future ally. We must realize that Jim Gilchrist, Lou Dobbs, and Tom Tancredo are children of God with infinite worth. “The image of God is never totally done,” and “even the worst segregationist can become an integrationist,” are powerful concepts. The civil rights movement sought not to advance the interests of one group over another, but knew that because their cause was just, it would benefit all people, even those who opposed them. This will require that we nurture and develop our capacity to love all humankind. Even more important than our unwillingness to tolerate an unjust system is our unwillingness to let that system cause us to hate. We must never call another human “enemy.”

 

Not Simply Disobedience; Civil Disobedience

It is interesting to read how strongly King supports the idea of civil disobedience. He does not advocate defying law. He even says “I submit that the individual who disobeys the law, whose conscience tells him it is unjust and who is willing to accept the penalty by staying in jail until that law is altered, is expressing at the moment the very highest respect for law.” Disobeying a specific law because of its immorality, but submitting to the general rule of law shows a very high level of respect for law. It is within that context of respect for the general rule of law, but recognition that some laws are unjust, that I encourage civil disobedience. We must break unjust laws openly and publicly, submit to the authorities, and trust that good people will not tolerate a system that allows good people to sit in jail because they refuse to “adjust to injustice.”

This means that we will be disruptive. Dr. King was constantly called an “outside agitator” for his unrelenting use of nonviolent civil disobedience. In this speech, he defends himself by saying that true peace was not disturbed, but only the “negative peace” of injustice. So it will be with us. We will be called outside agitators, we will be called disruptive. The analogy that came to mind for me, though, came from the “don’t rock the boat” idea. If a person is trapped under a small rowboat, s/he of necessity has to disrupt the apparent tranquility of the boat in order to stop from being drowned. But to suppose that because you are sitting in a stationary boat, peace must exist, is to neglect to see that your boat is potentially the instrument of someone’s death. As the drowning person pulls him/herself up over the edge of the boat, the rowboat dips toward the water on that side, but if the person sitting in the boat will be patient, the boat will regain its calm, but this time it will actually have peace, not just the appearance of it.

 

Question

My biggest question after reading this speech is this: how will the fact that restricted immigration is federal law make this civil disobedience campaign more difficult than the civil disobedience campaign for integration? Could they have succeeded in the 50s and 60s if they were still living under the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson?

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> The system of restricted migration, like segregation, uses tokenism to claim that justice is being realized, but like Dr. King, I recognize it as a mirage of justice, not justice itself.

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