Henry David Thoreau was inspired to write “Civil Disobedience” after a night in a Concord, Massachusetts jail for refusing to pay a tax in support of the Mexican-American War. A new book takes its title from this essay which also inspired Martin Luther King's, "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".
"A corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. 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 the 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. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?"
-Henry David Thoreau, "Civil Disobedience"
Anne Waldman and Lisa Berman in
Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action (CoffeeHouse Press)
have edited an important volume that drives home the importance of the artist/activist in contemporary America. In the introduction Anne Waldman creates a vivid picture of the artist in our growing security state:
" Do we really want to expel poets from the Republic? Imagine Plato going through security at the Athens Airport, then arriving in the USA for a Modern Language Association convention. Would he be affronted? Amused? Would not the threat of censorship be worrisome? Would he appreciate the decor? If Henry David Thoreau were to travel, would he suffer humiliation and indignation? What might compare back then? Imagine your favorite radical literary heroes going through security: Lao Tze, Sappho, William Blake, Mary and Percy Shelley, Gertrude Stein, W. E. B. DuBois.
There is currently--and one feels this is not going to go away--a strange and disturbing “disjunct” or “rip” in our culture that calls for an articulate active response to the current repressive agenda where anyone who doesn’t agree with current USA administration junta policies is “unpatriotic.” It’s as if people have given over control of their “destiny”--in fact, their “imaginations”--to a hopeless gray area of defeat and despair. When I get an e-mail that “someone is investigating your background” is it just a scam or something really creepy?"