Am I Ready to Risk Civil Disobedience... and Jail?

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning….Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”
–Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist

Here are some questions to ask yourself before “crossing the line” into Civil Disobedience:
• Do I understand the larger strategy of which this particular action or mobilization is just one part?
• Have I done my homework on the issue? Do I know enough about it to do at least a brief radio interview?
• In doing this action and taking this risk, do I understand my own motivation?
• If this event has guidelines or a nonviolence pledge, can I abide by them without significant mental reservation? How well do I understand nonviolence? Do I see nonviolence as a tactic…or as a value system and way of life?
• Am I prepared to have news of my arrest appear in my hometown newspaper?
• Do I trust the other members of my group, especially those I may be going to trial with? Have I organized the support I’ll need if I’m jailed, etc.?
• If I’m a gay or transgendered person, person of color, youth, immigrant, known dissenter (or member of other targeted groups), am I prepared for the probability that law enforcement and the court system will treat me more harshly than others?
• Whether or not I’m a member of a privileged group and regardless of how I am treated, am I prepared to act in solidarity with comrades targeted for harsher treatment by law enforcement and the court system?
• Am I aware of the possible legal consequences? Am I prepared to endure the worst case scenario even if it might involve staying some days or weeks in jail and going to trial and prison?
• How will my possible arrest, trial and imprisonment affect my family or others close to me? How will it affect my schooling/job/career?
• Do I have any fears about any of the foregoing? Have I discussed my fears with others in my support or affinity group?
• Do I see value in “prison witness” – i.e. going to prison for a good cause to help expose injustice?

Note: A good preparation for doing civil disobedience is to write out a statement explaining why you feel so strongly about this issue that you are willing to break the law, and risk injury and imprisonment? You can use such a statement as the basis of an op-ed in your local paper and as the basis of the remarks you’ll make in court.

This article is adapted from The Gandhian Wave: A Civil Disobedience Handbook compiled by Ed Kinane and Ann Tiffany.

Resources for Nonviolent Action
The Peace Council office has copies of the War Resisters League “Handbook for Nonviolent Action” available for $3.
You can also visit the following websites for additional resources: <www.warresisters.org>, <www.rantcollective.org>, <www.trainingfor change.org>, or <www.ruckus.org>.
See page 3 for information about the April 2-4 Nonviolence Training for Trainers organized by the Peace Council in conjunction with other groups.