Do not sit still like a United Airlines passenger in a video when an injustice is happening. If the other passengers had simply blocked the aisles, corporate thugs could not have dragged their fellow passenger away. If everyone on board had demanded that the airline offer higher compensation until someone volunteered to take a later flight, rather than being violently “reaccommodated,” then it would have done so.
Passivity in the face of injustice is the greatest danger we face. This fact does not mean I’m “blaming the victims.” Of course United Airlines should be shamed, sued, boycotted, and compelled to reform or “reaccommodate” itself out of our lives entirely. So should the government that has deregulated the industry. So should every police department that has come to view the public as an enemy in a war.
But one should expect corporations and their thugs to behave barbarically. They are designed to do so. One should expect corrupt governments that lack popular influence or control to abuse power. The question is whether people will sit back and take it, resist with some nonviolent skills, or disastrously resort to violence themselves. (I’ve not searched yet for proposals to arm airline passengers, because I really don’t look forward to reading them.)
The one nonviolent skill that seems to be advancing most encouragingly is videotaping and livestreaming. People have got that down. When police blatantly lie, such as by claiming to have carried a passenger who fell, rather than dragging a passenger whom they assaulted, video sets the record straight. But we often lack video of events far away that the U.S. military blatantly lies about, events locked out of sight that prison guards blatantly lie about, and events that happen over long periods — such as the willful destruction of the earth’s climate.
When it comes to those injustices that can’t be videotaped or sued in court, too often people fail to act entirely. This is extremely dangerous behavior. We’re collectively being dragged down an airplane aisle, and we’re failing to act. A U.S.-Saudi war is threatening millions with starvation in Yemen. In Syria, the U.S. is risking a nuclear confrontation with Russia. The Pentagon is considering attacking North Korea. Baby steps toward slowing down the destruction if the earth’s climate are being reversed. Warrantless spying, lawless imprisonment, and presidential drone murder have been normalized.
What can we do?
We can educate and organize. We can confront Congress members while they’re home. We can pass local resolutions. We can divest from horrible businesses. We can build global alliances. We can go and stand in the way of deportations, of weapons shipments, or of the broadcasting of corporate “news.” We can put a stop to injustice wherever we see it and require diplomatic negotiation and resolution from dying domestic industries and killing foreign service officials alike.
Civil disobedience is not something we should shy away from.
Civil obedience should horrify us. There is an epidemic.