To the Editor:
If Occupy Wall Street members break the law by camping out, occupying buildings, disrupting society or resisting arrest, they might be disregarding Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy of civil disobedience as articulated in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and his other writings.
Real civil disobedience requires adherence to ground rules. One must:
- Act only on a very important humanitarian issue to many, if not most, other people.
- Have tried all other remedies and been unsuccessful.
- Be nonviolent.
- Not harm or significantly inconvenience innocent people.
- Be willing to accept the consequences of one's acts.
You cannot claim to use "civil disobedience" just because you:
- Don't like some law or situation.
- Feel angry or irritated about something.
- Have spare time on your hands.
- Find it more exciting to break laws than to engage in volunteer work or legitimate social actions.
Legitimate civil disobedience, in other words, involves rules, and if you are not adhering to all or most of them, you cannot claim to be performing an act of civil disobedience.
Some Occupy Wall Street participants and some anti-choice zealots have disobeyed most, if not all, of the rules.
Thus, their actions are not actions of civil disobedience. They are acts of simple narcissism and thuggery.
John F. Higdon is a clinical psychologist in Columbia and a member of the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.