Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her — the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution... (emphasis added)I confess that I had not been a student of Thoreau, and only very recently have read Civil Disobedience. But when I learned of Tim DeChristopher's story, I sat in awe of the stand this young man took, for which he is currently nearing the end of a two-year prison term. He was convicted for having subverted what amounted to an illegal oil and gas lease auction hastily conducted by the (Lame Duck) Bush administration in December 2008.
Thoreau got pretty indignant for having been jailed for one night for refusing to pay a delinquent tax bill. A relative paid it for him, drastically limiting his incarceration time. Yet Thoreau's essay has inspired people to pay a dramatically higher personal price for the causes they believe in.
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at age 78, but not before he led non-violent nationwide campaigns in India for economic and civil rights ultimately resulting in India achieving independence from the British Empire.
Martin Luther King Jr., of course, fought hard for civil rights for all Americans before he was assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.
DeChristopher is the subject of Gage and Gage Productions' documentary Bidder 70.
During a Q & A session after watching Bidder 70 at the Valley Art Theater in Tempe, Tucson activist Vincent Pawlowski (wisely) urged young people in the audience to not act rashly by going out and getting themselves arrested. Young people especially must establish themselves with careers and families. A felony conviction early in their lives can throw all of that promise out the window.
There are, nevertheless, ways we can move together to enact change in society.
DeChristopher and many of his friends started Peaceful Uprising to defend a livable future through empowering nonviolent action.
Learn more about Tim DeChristopher in these clips from Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC