Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Thoreauvian Vision Coming to Pass

As my fifth and final post to follow my four formal posts (link to those four provided here), I would like to expose the literature, Henry David Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience" in a comparison with Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD) as we know it.

In my research and readings, I haven't found much on the topic other than ECD articles and websites simply saying that Thoureau's essay was the primary text or that it pioneered ECD. Something I believe but I could never find evidence or support for this philosophy. In a close reading of the literary, I have found many comparisons that can be applied to ECD and establish the text as a true primary source for the virtual method of protest.

The Analysis
"I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least'...and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have." Thoreau begins the text by arguing that government is subject to the people. This sets a foundation which allows the people the right to stand up to their government, protest, and standing for what they believe is to be true. "Government" he says has "lost some of its [imposes upon man] does not keep the country free, it does not educate." Thoreau mentions the Mexican War, something he was greatly opposed to. The Mexican people would not have "consented to this measure" to which the Mexican government imposes upon them.

"Civil Disobedience" and the Zapatistas
The Zapaitsta Army of National Liberation have been fighting a battle against the Mexican Government for its implentation of NAFTA, which they believe increases neo-liberalism and capitalism which oppress the indigenous people and Working class in the state of Chiapas. The Zapatista Army is not demanding a government to cease governing the people at all but "at once a better government." This battle began in 1994 and is still continuing 16 years later. Thoreau admonishes "every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it." A battle that has prolonged 16 years and is not over yet has definitely posed as a threat to the Mexican government. A battle for the equal rights and liberation of the indigenous people in Chiapas.

Thoreau was not only an abolitionist but also went to jail for refusing to pay his poll tax under President James K. Polk's term in office in protest that it would support the Mexican War. He says:
I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also. All men recognize the right of revolution...the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government when its tyranny or its inefficient are great and unendurable.
The Zapatistas recognize the right and freedom of all mankind. They believe that Everything is for Everyone and Everyone has the right to Freedom. This video clip below shows two travelers visit to Chiapas and their interview with Zapatista leaders. In Zapatista territory, the Zapatistas rule the government and the government is subject to the people. This illuminates a society in which Thoreau imagined.

Thoreau wrote this text for all people in all places. The Zapatista battle has also been a battle of peaceful protest. A "peaceable revolution," Thoreau states, is "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." The Zapatistas have partaken in Thoreau's ideology of peaceful revolution. Since 1994, the Zapatista army has abstained from using their weapons for violence. Instead, they have been determined to fight their war through words. Words relaying their actions and messages. The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) has greatly assisted in spreading the Zapatista message through using FloodNet software and other forms of ECD like Virtual Sit-Ins and Hacktivism.

"Civil Disobedience" and Professor Ricardo Dominguez
Ricardo Dominguez, co-founder of EDT and professor on ECD at University of California-San Diego, recently led a protest along with his students against the UCOP (University of California Office of the President) in the increased college fees. The protests took place on the internet through Virtual Sit-Ins. "The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right." Dominguez and his students thought this to be right and a cause for a Virtual Sit-In, "[letting] every [student and professor] make known what kind of [UCOP] would command [their] respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it." As the UCOP websites were hacktivated and the reload button was clicked by over 400 students every 1 to 6 seconds, creating a feel for thousands of computers trying to access, messages were sent out and students felt their academic freedom was being violated.

Shortly after the attacks, Dominguez was brought into questioning, UCSD placing him under surveillance to see if any criminal charges could be placed for a professor that had just recently given tenure. Placed under scrutiny by his own "government", Dominguez "educated" his students and others by "serving the state with [his] conscience, and so necessarily [resisting] it for the most part" to be "commonly treated as [an enemy]." Through their protest, they "[refused] allegiance to, and [resisted], the government [UCOP]." Letters were written all over the globe in support for Dominguez's actions. Students and faculty performed a silent protest on campus in support of Dominguez and protesting the right to academic freedom, declaring their virtual protest as a new media form of art.

"A wise man will not leave the right to ther mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority." What if Dominguez didn't protest the increased college fee? The vote would go to the California people and the majority vote might be a "yes". Through protesting and standing for justice, Dominguez raised awareness, sparked thought, and possibly created change through sending artistic messages across the Internet medium. As Thoreau ceased to pay his poll tax, he said "it costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey." Pay the highway tax yes he would but "as for supporting schools," Thoreau is "doing [his] part to educate [his] fellow countrymen now." Would Dominguez pay the increased college fee if he were subject to? I do not believe he would. As the "Government" fails "to educate," Dominguez succeeds through his actions.

Thoreauvian Vision
"I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor...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 I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen."

The Zapatistas in Chiapas, Ricardo Dominguez's protests in San Diego, and Virtual Sit-Ins and other forms of protest provided by the Internet allow for this State to be visualized. Activists exposing the truth, defending causes for truth, justice, and equality, and standing up against the "evils" and "machines" of government, have pushed Thoreau's philosophy further. Thoreau applauds a Chinese philosophers wisdom "to regard the individual as the basis of the empire"

The Internet provides a means of freedom. As Thoreau sat in his jail cell, he recognized the freedom he had and in no sense a feeling of confinement. The World Wide Web provides a means of open access, communication over the globe, and endless opportunities to spread messages of activism and protest. There are no "walls of climb or break through" to become free. A vision and a means becoming fulfilled one activist at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Audrey, I have really enjoyed your blog, and especially, the formation of your thesis. It has been interesting to compare your research with my own, as you have found many great examples of protests and gatherings online to oppose measures instituted by governing bodies. I have really appreciated seeing how possible "civil disobedience" can be in the right circumstances.

    I recently finished my last formal post on the affairs in China, and felt extremely drained from the, well, depressing nature of it. Then I read your post and remembered that many areas still have the ability to fight back. Thanks for that.