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Occupy Los Angeles: Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”


Henry David Thoreau said it best. Civil Disobedience remains an active form a positive change in a world where corporations and government move in lock-step, where elections are bought by the highest bidder, and inequality is growing across the global, marginalizing the voices of people in favor of those withal the money and power to buy votes, media, police power, and military might.

Hnery David Thoreau, Jack Daws

Henry David Thoreau

Excerpts from Civil Disobedience 1849

Speaking as a citizen, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man and woman make known what kind of government would command his or her respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.

It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with  a conscience.

Third-quarter earnings soared for Halliburton – 24% – Wells Fargo – 21% – and Citigroup – an astounding 74%, even as, incredibly, they assaulted and arrested 24 protesters who tried to close their accounts.

A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. Now what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?

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The mass of men and women serve the state thus, not as humans mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden people can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.

“Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society.”  – Albert Einstein, “Why Socialism?” 1949

Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others- as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and middle-managers — serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and humans, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.

All humans recognize the right of revolution: that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyrrany or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.

All machines have their friction, but when the friction comes to have its own machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say, let us not have such as machine any longer.

Practically speaking, the opponents of reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, cooperate with, and do the bidding of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless.

There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have to regret it.

That is the spirit of civil disobedience that is growing in this country. It is a quandary – that is, a problem with no solution. All that one can do under such conditions is to describe the disease and its symptoms. The cure will follow logically from the diagnosis. But the role of OccupyWallStreet is to diagnose the financial polarization and corruption of the political process that extends right into the Supreme Court, the Presidency, and  Obama’s soon-to-be notorious Committee of 13 once the happy-smoke settles from his present pretensions.  Michael Hudson

The authority of government to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede it. I please myself by imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all humans, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.

Photography by Jessica Aldridge and Jack Eidt

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