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December 1996
How to be an Activist: Being Civilly Disobedient

By Ben White



Civil Disobedience (CD) - breaking the law of the day to argue for a greater goal - has been used as a form of activism for many years. Both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. used it. Ben White lays down some philosophical ground rules for those who feel they wish to undertake CD. The following is not intended as a recommendation to undertake CD; that is entirely a personal decision.

1. Challenging the infliction of suffering is the right thing to do. Feel proud. If you act like a criminal, you will be treated as one.

2. Treat everyone - police, your opponents, the press - as potential converts. Be persuasive, not angry.

3. Be peaceful. Completely. If verbally attacked, smile. If physically attacked, protect yourself without responding in kind. Look the person in the eye.

4. Remember why you are doing it - to keep from personally acquiescing to suffering. The more oppressive the treatment of you, the more obvious the institutional protection of systemic violence.

5. There is power in numbers.

6. Come across as a normal person. Otherwise your opinion is considered by many to be worthless.

7. Know your subject. Don't answer any question from the media that you're not sure of.

8. Appeal to the inherent sense of fairness in your opponent or the police who are encountered.

Ben White is the Pacific Coast director of Friends of Animals.


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