As Bob Dylan sang once:
"They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail.
Steal a lot and they make you king."
I am drawing a parallel, as did Ariel Dorfman in his New York Times Op Ed last week, between Chile in the early 1970s and the U.S. today. I am stating an opinion, also an historical observation, that civil disobedience will be required to protect us from the policies and appointees of our president-elect.
When that reader rejoined, "do you see the irony between calling for civil disobedience and wishing for peace on earth?", I replied with perhaps more length than was called for:
I'm glad you asked me that question, and hope you were not anticipating a brief response. Irony? Yes. Also contradiction. My poem does not call for a coup, but rather pays tribute to poets and singers who stood up against powerful forces. While I specifically refer to the coup of 9/11/1973 when General Pinochet overthrew the elected Allende government in Chile (with backing from the U.S.), I could just as well be appreciating all who have risked standing up to oppressive systems in any time or place.
Whether it be family systems or the system of the human family, dysfunction cannot be addressed until it is stood up to. Civil rights were not legislated top-down but, as with any systemic change, bottom-up. Before last semester, I thought about my privilege maybe 10-20% of the time. Now I think about it 80-90%. As a white, middle-class, U.S.-born, Christian male, I didn't have to notice what my sibling humans, targeted in those areas, were experiencing. But I can no longer know peace within myself without standing with them. The society tells me that I, as Agent, can be assured of having my needs met, my pain minimized, if I will simply agree to numb myself to injustice done to others. Speaking for myself, the deal's off. Some might have called it a pact with the devil. If enough of us refuse to continue in our role in perpetuating the system—which for most of us means remaining silent—will it not, just as in the family, be compelled to change?
Paul's epistle advises us to pray without ceasing. Where does one see that? The Abbey, perhaps? The closest I have come to seeing a community praying with minimal interruption was Thanksgiving week when my wife, step-son, and I drove to Standing Rock Reservation to support the Native Water Protectors. If you would like to read my account, visit http://jeffrysteele.blogspot.com. I don't have to tell you about the crimes committed against Native peoples to pave the way for our unearned privilege. I do know I wasn't taught about it in school.
From here on, I will be seeking more effective means to leverage my privilege for the betterment of targeted people and the planet. It has been 30 years since I was last arrested for civil disobedience. I cannot predict whether returning to that will make sense for me, but I am preparing myself to step out of my Agent comfort zone in more than a few ways. For one, I expect to have more conversations with those I share Agent rank about how they feel about the price for their privilege.
As we approach the celebration of Jesus' birth, He enters my heart as a child with uncompromisable expectations for love between living creatures. His unwillingness to compromise got Him killed much as it did Martin Luther King, Archbishop Romero, and countless others. The tyrant king is not one man. It is the complicity with tyranny that dwells within each of us. The president-elect is an archetype, from my perspective, of the abusive parent. I believe that how we respond to him varies depending on how fully we have faced, felt, and resolved abuse experiences in our lives.
I will not live to see the peace I want for this earth. But I can die peacefully in knowing that I stood with others to contribute a modicum to it.