Tag Archive: civil disobedience

Newark Students talk about What Brought Them to Civil Disobedience

Why did students occupy Newark Public Schools HQ for four days last week?

New Jersey, these are your young people, the leaders of Newark Student Union. They are dealing with the knife edge of issues that could easily make it to your own local schools, if they haven’t already. You may remember that one of the demands these high school students, and their parents, made of Christie-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson is that she finally attend the School Board meeting on the 24th, as superintendents should be expected to do. That’s tonight. The meeting’s going on now. And again, Cami has ditched. Here is what the students have to say:

Newark Student Union claims victory, now will shift focus to Chris Christie

Cami Anderson waited out 65 hours during a civil disobedience action by the leadership of Newark Student Union. During that time she avoided her office as calls for her to show up and address student concerns came via social media from all over the country and the street below filled with Newark parents, community, clergy, the press and even Mayor Ras Baraka.

h_cover_0121Today she finally walked in and talked for about an hour. Officials asked students not to record the conversation or let anyone know she was coming. But then Newark Public Schools released their statement during that meeting. It was a savvy, but bad-faith, effort of NPS to gain back some control of the disastrous PR effect this sit-in has had on Cami, on One Newark and NPS.

The occupation will end at 5:30 today, as students come downstairs to talk to the press. Now they shift their focus to Chris Christie, another absentee figure and a politician already dealing with public relations problems, but who bears ultimate responsibility for the mess Anderson has made.

Here’s what the students said a about targeting Chris Christie:.

Tax Day Essay: “On Civil Disobedience”

[for version with photo and links, go to:


I never subscribed to the first sentence of Thoreau’s famous essay “Civil Disobedience “(1849).

That lede has been misleadingly overplayed, in terms of distracting from more central points of his essay and it also has served to legitimize certain anti-social individualistic, anti-government, libertarian views:


I heartily accept the motto, – “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe, – “That government is best which governs not at all”, and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

When will men ever be “prepared” for pure anarchism? Even if they were sufficiently altruistic, would some form of communitarian organization be preferable? But I digress from the point I am trying to make with this Tax Day post.

Thoreau was a strong opponent of the Mexican invasion, and he advocated withholding of taxes as a form of protest – civil disobedience. It was not taxes and government, per se, that were his primary issue concern, but rather his moral revulsion at slavery and the deep injustice of the Mexican war. His conscience and his sense of personal responsibility forced him to not contribute to those efforts in any way.

That principled equality, anti-war, anti-imperial stance and Thoreau’s civil disobedience tactics have not been so relevant since the Vietnam War. Thoreau wrote:


If one were to tell me that this were a bad government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought to its ports, it is most probably that I should not make an ado about it, for I can do without them. All machines have their friction; and possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. … But when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In other words, when a sixth of the population of a a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun, and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact, that the country so over-run is not our own, but ours is the invading army.

Now think of these words in terms of the huge black population now in prison and segregated in hopeless urban ghettos.

Think about US army invasion, war, and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Think of the irresponsible and corrupt failure to respond to global warming.

Thoreau targeted the political source of the problem (as did Martin Luther King over 100 years later in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” where he scorned well- meaning white liberals, and called for direct action non-violent civil disobedience). Thoreau wrote:


Those who, while they disapprove of the character an measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support, are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.

Thoreau realized that real social change depended upon individual integrity, which in turn required the courage to act upon one’s convictions – and take bold conscience based actions that put one at risk:


Action from principle, the perception and performance of right, changes things and relations, it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was.

Thoreau realized that the individual exercising his conscience in action against the state would be treated harshly and unjustly, particularly the poor and powerless compared to the elite (are there not echoes today in Wall Street bandits not going to jail while millions of young black men serve long prison time for crack cocaine?):


If a man who has no property refuses but once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is  put in prison for a period unlimited by any law I know, … but if he he should steal ninety times nine shillings  from the State, he is soon permitted to go at large.

Thoreau laid out the test and summed up the individual’s duty to take action – a call to action that remains extremely relevant today (and echoed in the equally famous “body on the gears” speech by 1960’s Berkelely free speech movement leader, Mario Savio. Thoreau wrote:


If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth, – certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate,  that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.


“Serving political purposes” & Counter recruitment rally Saturday 2pm New Brunswick

Rutgers Against the War, Rutgers Graduate Students for Peace and Justice, the Central Jersey Coalition  the Student and Educational Workers Union (SEWU, IWW 620), the Catholic Peace Fellowship, Radigals, Anti-Racist Action, and others will be rallying outside the Marine Corps Recruiting office at 303 George St, (George and New St) in New Brunswick, Saturday at 2pm.

I’ve posted it on the events calendar and mentioned it in a previous diary where I discussed last week’s CR action on campus.  As I think about the comments of the Rutgers staff from the lg lab, I really can’t believe it.  She (Carolyn Burger) said to the Daily Targum about inviting the Army in to recruit students in the language lab, “We don’t serve political purposes.”  Given the nature of the Iraq War and the fact that we are AT WAR, I don’t see how it could not be “political.”