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Pamela H. Long Headshot

Understanding Civility in Civil Disobedience

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I'm not sure that civil disobedience changes hearts. At least not the way some folks define it. Blocking traffic to protest an unjust law doesn't demonstrate effectively our moral objections.

Maybe for some people it does, but I think our civil discourse has become so cynical and callous nowadays that I doubt that such things have any impact. I'd like to see some evidence that it even changes voting patterns.

But I haven't yet seen empirical evidence that it causes much change in the way people perceive of the issues at stake.

Yet, although I'm unconvinced of civil disobedience's efficacy, I'm behind the actions of a few Alabama ministers last week who blocked the entrance to the Alabama Senate chamber, in protest against the state's anti-immigrant law HB56.

In an effort to "tweak" what Alabamians now see as a major legislative misstep, senators are, as we speak, considering adopting HB658, a bill they say will make the original somewhat less toxic, but more enforceable. In a move to convince state senators of the moral repugnance of HB56 and its "tweak" bill, several pastors prayed, sang and locked arms in the foyer of the state senate. They were handcuffed and led away, but were not charged.

It's got me to thinking about whether I would participate, if asked, in such an action. But there's no question that I am now engaging in activities banned by HB56, and I plan to continue. I give aid and comfort to people I'm pretty sure are undocumented. I don't ask and I don't tell, but statistics being what they are, it's highly likely that the people who need my help are the kind that enter this country by walking across a desert.

I interpret for people in the doctor's office, in emergency rooms, health clinics, pharmacies. I make appointments for people when they need medical attention, or when they need a lawyer. I interpret on the phone frequently when they need to talk to their supervisor. If they're trying to buy a car or a cellphone, they call me to help make their needs known to the salesperson. I interpret for them with landlords, babysitters, teachers, mechanics, law-enforcement officers. I've helped new mothers fill out birth certificate information forms for their newborns. Sadly, I also have to visit them in jail and interpret between them and their lawyers, and more than once at the funeral home when their families come to make last arrangements for them.

Am I aiding and abetting, harboring and transporting? Lord, I hope so. I'm taking Matthew 25: 34-40 seriously. When meeting the physical and social needs of the "least of these" becomes an act of civil disobedience, I must disobey.

Whether it changes hearts and minds will not persuade me -- I have another mandate I have to follow.