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Not Helpless

I just read Pam's diary, “Howard Dean joins GetEqual DADT White House protest; civilians chained to fence arrested.”  Some commenters questioned whether this relatively small gathering and act of civil disobedience was appropriate or effective.

Before heading over to Pam's, I'd read Joseph Dana's blog, “This Is What Direct Nonviolent Action Looks Like.”  His article documents how nonviolent demonstrators in Israel blocked – if only for a day – the construction of a wall around their village.  He quotes a report from the Popular Struggle Coordinating Committee:

Al-Walaja is an agrarian village of about 2,000 people, located south of Jerusalem and West of Bethlehem. Following the 1967 Occupation of the West Bank and the redrawing of the Jerusalem municipal boundaries, roughly half the village was annexed by Israel and included in the Jerusalem municipal area. The village’s residents, however did not receive Israeli residency or citizenship, and are considered illegal in their own homes.

Once completed, the path of the Wall is designed to encircle the village’s built-up area entirely, separating the residents from both Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and almost all their lands – roughly 5,000 dunams.

BTW, in Israel a dunam is 1,000 square meters.

I was moved by the video that accompanies Dana's piece.  It shows about a dozen people walking up to a bulldozer and sitting in front of it, blocking its path.  It also shows military personnel grabbing the protesters and dragging them away.  A number of the protesters broke from their captors and returned to sit in front of the bulldozer.  One man was very persistent and clung to a nearby tree.  I thought the military would have to uproot the tree to move him.

You could look at this video, read Dana's posting, and wonder, what did this handful of protesters accomplish?  Eventually they were removed from the site and the wall building continued.

To me that's not the point.  These folks are putting their lives on the line to keep their homes and access to their lands.  It doesn't matter if five or five thousand took part in the protest – size isn't everything. 

The military could easily squash them.  Their neighbors could tell them it's no use.  They could all shrug and tell themselves that they're helpless.

Instead, they took direct action.  Apparently they didn't concern themselves about whether they were well funded, politically connected or covered by the media.  They did what they needed to do.

Referring to the first time he was arrested for chaining himself to the White House fence, Dan Choi said, “I think there's somthing so absolutely dignified when you have the chains on you and you know you are an oppressed person.  There are other people who are oppressed that have the chains on themselves in their hearts.”

Let's at least unchain our hearts.

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