Friday, July 20, 2012

Of Civil Disobedience and Sacrifice

By Daniel Lee

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty…in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

On November 2, 2011, I and a group of 13 others stood on a small strip of grass in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, refusing the orders to leave the park being barked over bullhorn while being surrounded by more than 50 officers leveling riot suppression weapons at us, and were arrested, taken downtown, and booked in jail. I came back to the park the next night, and the night after that, for over 2 weeks, receiving two more citations, and facing off with the boys in blue each night as we sang the national anthem, union songs, and recited passages from the bill of rights,  Martin Luther King Jr., and OWS’ Declaration of Occupation.  I watched fellow protesters being sprayed in the face at point blank range with pepper spray for doing nothing more than sitting peacefully in protest, and I suffered minor nerve damage which still occasionally flares up every so often from the excessively tight zip cords they bound my hands with as they carried me away. I stood before city council the night after I was released from jail to plead for our rights only to be immediately shut down. I stood in the cold, in the rain and sleet, shoulder to shoulder with other compatriots, facing the full and terrible force of a belligerent militarized police force suppressing civil liberties, and I would gladly do it again.

Why did I risk my liberty and freedom to stand on a strip of grass after 11:01 pm? I did it because I believed, and still do, that the freedoms our country supposedly stands for is an illusion. True democracy does not exist – elections are rigged and controlled by wealthy corporate elites who use politicians as puppets to expand their profits and strip workers and citizens of their rights. Free speech is only free to those who can pay for it. All but the wealthiest who can hire an army of attorneys are subject to unreasonable search and seizure. Our civil and human rights are trampled on a daily basis, and yet we take it, day in and day out. We fly our flags and vote at election time, and unless we are directly bearing the brunt of injustice, we tend to turn a blind eye to the outrages against justice that are meted out on the poor, the minorities, and the plain unlucky.

I stood on that grass after curfew, in direct violation of a law which requires legal bribery by the payment of outrageous fees and insurance bonds to circumvent, a law which is designed to abridge citizen’s rights of free speech unless they have enough money to pay to get around it, and I made a stand. I could have moved two feet over to the sidewalk and completely avoided violating the law, but I chose to break it as a direct act of civil disobedience.

So I pled “No Contest” and was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of breaking park curfew, and given a fine, which the judge graciously reduced on account of being improperly represented at the beginning (a problem which I remedied by hiring a very able and competent attorney). I could have chosen to fight the charges as I’m sure some of the others arrested that night - and the night before and the nights of the two weeks which followed - might do. But to me, it is illogical and dishonest to commit an act of civil disobedience and then try to plead innocent. I freely acknowledge that I broke the law, and I have paid the price. The price however, is minuscule compared to the toll which is exacted upon the people in the name of freedom. Many more acts, and many more sacrifices will have to be made to balance back the scales of justice in our favor.

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