by Fr. John Dear, S.J.
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This week, the Sierra Club announced that for the first time in its 120-year history, it encourages its members to participate in acts of civil disobedience with 350.org and The Hip Hop Caucus against the evil Keystone XL pipeline Feb. 16-18 in Washington, D.C.
“Civil disobedience is part of a great American tradition,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said on NPR the other day. “It’s helped to bring our country out of its darkest hours. And so we believe that civil disobedience will help us to create a breakthrough political environment where we’re able to achieve solutions to climate change that have eluded policy makers over the last several years.”
Let’s hope so. Of course, Michael Brune is right. In every major movement in our nation’s history — the abolitionists, the suffragists, the labor movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement — the breakthrough occurred when good people broke bad laws and accepted the consequences. But we seldom hear about our own historic legacy of civil disobedience in the mainstream media. We’re rarely told about its connections with spirituality and faith — how, for example, Jesus practiced civil disobedience repeatedly and was eventually arrested, imprisoned and executed for it. Instead, we’re dismissed for attempting it, as if we dare think that we ordinary people could make a difference.
Along comes oral historian Rosalie G. Riegle with two massive new books that put the questions of civil disobedience and its consequences front and center…