Don’t be afraid, be disobedient instead
by Harriet May
It is first thing in the morning, and I am watching a YouTube video over my morning coffee. This one happens to be on Thoreau, who in 1849, in the midst of an unjust war against Mexico and fifteen years before slavery was to be abolished, published an essay called ‘Civil Disobedience’. I have just spent a weekend angrily scrolling through Twitter, and calling my parents at their home in North Carolina to ask, how is it in apocalyptic America? So I am feeling, like a great deal of the world’s population, civilly disobedient.
Although we were incensed by Trump’s sudden Muslim Ban, the weekend was not, for us, one of protest. Instead, Sam and I ran the five miles from our flat to London’s Chinatown to join the Chinese New Year festivities and see in the year of the fire rooster– audacious dragons dancing to the beat of drums, while overhead products are sold to us in Chinese via LED screens. We remain hopeful that a year of luck and prosperity lies ahead of us, despite the signs that Trump is preparing for a coup. Hopeful that in the rich and colourful world we choose to participate in, ancient and modern all at once, our diversity will be a source of strength and not one of division.
In his essay, Thoreau writes that
The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognising and organising the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognise the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.
Any fears of globalisation and technology are being misaligned, to make the rich richer and the powerful almighty. Governments (the US government is now notable although certainly not alone) are using those who are ready to bend, not even to just its will this time, but to its whims. It has long been our job to demand discussion, progress and constant re-evaluation, but now we must go further, and endure all injustices as if they are acted out against us personally. When told to be afraid, refuse; choose to be disobedient instead. Know your neighbour, let your representatives know who you are and where you stand, and organise. More than a hundred years ago Thoreau decried a government that refused to strive to improve, to uphold the humanity of those it was formed to serve, and yet here we are.
“Cast your whole vote,” Thoreau insists, “not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.” Well, I am a fire tiger: restless and independent. And ready to fight.