Loyal Disobedience

Civil disobedience was the principal topic of a big public get together held two evenings ago in Peterborough‛s remodelled Market Hall Theatre.  The principal speaker and principal attraction was young Brigette De Pape, also known as the Rogue Page.

Remember Brigette?  She became famous (some of the hide-bound say notorious) for holding up a “Stop Harper”sign in the Senate during the last Throne Speech.  Her appearance here in Peterborough was sponsored by the local chapter of the Council of Canadians and several other civil society groups and was enhanced by the performing talents of local citizens, Trent U students, and the Rep by Pop band.

It was quite an evening, with lots of reasons put forth as to why Mr.  Harper should be stopped.  But don‛t worry, it‛s not my intention now to dip into that fearsome cornucopia of fact-free government policy that is rapidly becoming the hallmark of today’s so-called Conservatives.  However, as one who has spouted off about the perils of government in league with  Corporate Creatures who see profit in War, Crime, Sickness, Disasters, and unchecked Growth, I see no reason not to take an interest in the phenomenon of civil disobedience.

Actually, it’s not a phenomenon at all.  In our society it just hasn’t been used a great deal.  No wonder so many of us were impressed by Brigette’s senatorial act.  She set a very high standard indeed — absolute civility and absolute disobedience.

Brigette’s act was singular, not only in the sense of being unusual but in the fact that it was performed by one, lone, frightened but composed, young woman.

On the other hand, the Occupy movements that are circling the globe involve huge numbers of people and appear to be basically unstructured.  But history tells us that large protests can be meticulously structured.  Let me dip back into my files for an illustration.  (I found this to be even more topical than I had expected.)

                               Loyal Disobedience

….There is a story from India that illustrates truly civilized disobedience.  It happened in a small community after World War Two.  Because of nationalist riots, the British had passed a law prohibiting public gatherings of more than a handful of people.  One day, in intentional disobedience, a couple of thousand gathered.

There was no way the community’s small police force could arrest two thousand people so the protesters arrested themselves.

The local jail could accommodate only about 125 inmates.  The 2000 took lime and outlined jail cells on the grass in the shade of some banyan trees.

There was no way the local authorities could cope with the paper work that was required in order to bring a person before a British court.  The prisoners filled out their own charge sheets with meticulous care, those with a legal turn of mind helping the others.

The local authorities could not feed 2000 prisoners, so at mealtime the prisoners went home and then dutifully returned to their “cells”. Eventually, a real judge sentenced the ring leaders to two years in a real prison, but the point had been made.  The machinery of civilized government only functions with the consent of the governed.

The farther a government removes itself from its people the more valid civil disobedience becomes as a political tool.  It may be the only tool left for Canadians who want to force their government to listen to the governed.

A majority of Canadians objected to the government’s version of free trade and were ignored.  A majority of Canadians were opposed to the Meech Lake Accord and were ignored. [Until after a referendum.] The Senate listened to the citizens and tried to put the brakes on the GST but was manipulated into submission.  Our armed forces were committed to a questionable war [Serbia] before Parliament was consulted.  Our government is again committing us to a fast track on yet another questionable free trade deal…

Through it all a majority of MPs, representing a minority of Canadians, salute the prime minister and ignore the people.  There comes a time when genuine, peaceful, loyal disobedience is the only civilized weapon left.  There comes a time for the governed to withhold consent.

♣  Loyal Disobedience
From: Down Paradox Lane
Lindsay This Week, Feb. 13, 1991
Copyright (c) Munroe Scott


About Munroe Scott

Munroe Scott is a veteran of the freelance writing world.
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9 Responses to Loyal Disobedience

  1. Don Streibig says:

    Thanks, Munroe, for setting me upon your blog site. I was unaware of your Internet offerings.

    I will read and catch up and comment shortly. Just back from 6-weeks in Europe. Lots to share.

    Glad we are in touch again. DON in Columbus.

  2. Earle Gray says:

    My vote goes for Ms. De Pape. Keep up stumping for stopping Harper and the Tories, Brigette. And keep up the challenging blogs, Munroe.

  3. Sheila Nabigon-Howlett. says:

    Great to have you in our community Munroe! Your blogs are right on. When we get our real “alternative press” running you have to be one of the main writers!
    Sheila Nabigon-Howlett

  4. lionel strange says:

    Loyal disobedience is a nice idea but it can only result in one of two situations.
    In countries, which are run by dictatorships such as Syria, it will result in the disobedience being opposed by the police and military until the protesters are either subdued or wiped out. In countries such as Canada or the UK, the government will treat it as a nuisance that must be tolerated and even accommodated until it dies out.
    In Canada, if enough of us are unhappy with the present trend in government, the solution would seem to be to combine the Liberal and NDP parties under a dynamic leader, generate a good majority and force through such legislation as is necessary to bring about a reasonable balance between those who actually work to make a living and those who simply make money by manipulating money.

    • Munroe Scott says:

      Surely your solution, Lionel, of amalgamating the Libs and NDP would have little effect until after the next election? Until then we would still have a majority government implementing an unpopular ideological agenda that will pretty well destroy all the social progress our generation has struggled for. The way both Opposition parties talk about building or re-building themselves in order to form a government in four years time strikes me similar to one company calmly planning to repair a heritage building while another company is busily knocking it down. Even a legislated change right now to create a fair electoral system would be no protection against the next four years.

  5. Lionel Strange says:

    You are no doubt correct, Munroe, that any attempt to organize a combination of opposition parties to overthrow the Harper machine would take at least 4 years.
    However, a mass demonstration of peaceful non violent confrontation to the government is equally unlikely to do more than cause general inconvenience and eventually ( as is now happening) a revolt by those who find their daily life upset.
    It has taken many hundreds of years to bring about the form of parliamentary government that we now enjoy and there can be little doubt that the system is in desperate need of repair. It is , however probably better than any other system now in operation and , like any complex piece of machinery, it is very unwise to pull it apart unless you know how to reassemble it.
    As far as we in Canada are concerned, the various groups that have set up camp in public places to demonstrate their desire for change have no defined object other than to show their unhappiness with the present system . Most of them however rely to some extent on financial support from government and would be very unhappy if their demonstration lead to the collapse of the system that that is their ultimate back up in times of difficulty.
    If, like the demonstration in India that you recount, we all set up camp on Parliament hill and any other public space that we can take over, what should be our object? Who will frame our demands? How can the government respond while staying within the constitutional and legal framework that it and it’s forbear governments have established?
    All the best Munroe. I look forward to your next contribution. Lionel.

  6. Munroe Scott says:

    Interesting comments, Lionel, and you make some good points. However, my own reading of the Canadian scene is not that there is as much a wish to “pull apart”the machine as to fix the damn thing. The electoral system is, of course, a case in point. The more government justifies irrational legislation on the premise of a “mandate”that is based on a false “majority” the more people will rebel and, of course, destruction breeds destruction. I see the government itself bending that very constitutional and legal framework that you speak of.

    You are quite right to ask “What should be our object?” I like the India story because it was so specific. The government forbade large gatherings so there was a large gathering. The protesters broke the law so they incarcerated themselves. Much of what is going on today is formless. But today people are beginning at last to realize that there is a level of government beyond Parliament that is, apparently, above and immune to much of the “constitutional and legal framework “. The corporate creatures that form it hide behind the shibboleths of economics and the “invisible hand of the market”. Unless both levels of government, the visible and invisible, wake up we will be experiencing a modern version of the Peasants‛ Revolt . At the moment there is no Wat Tyler.

    It‛s not accidental that l call my blog “Return to Paradox”.

  7. Lionel Strange says:

    Your reference, Munroe, to the shibboleths of economics and the invisible hand of the market hits the nail on the head. I think I am reasonably well educated, but I am 91 years old and my understanding of the intricacies of today’s financial machinations is at about the same level as my understanding of quantum mechanics. Money moves from one country to another at the speed of light: companies operate globally and without any apparent loyalty to any one country when it comes to employment. The stock market operates as a computerized gambling machine that is in a perpetual state of dangerous instability.
    Those such as finance ministers and central bankers, who, one hopes, can, (a) understand the system and (b) maintain some control over it, have my sympathy.
    The downtrodden masses that instinctively realize that the system is rushing ahead without any regard to their general welfare can protest in small groups or in massive sit- ins but it is hard to see how they can make any impression on this horrendous juggernaut.
    My view, for what it is worth is that within the next ten years the whole international finance system will collapse due to the fact that national debts (particularly USA debt) have reached the point where countries can no longer borrow any more money.
    However, Munroe, as I have already noted, my opinion is not worth a fish’s tit. Incidentally, I have just finished a computer course on quantum mechanics and I think its complexity is at about the same level as international economics. The mathematics of both is beyond me. All the best Lionel

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