Civil disobedience…

Took a day off from retirement to be a substitute teacher at my first school – Middle College High School at Delta College in Stockton, California. The name’s a mouthfull, so we just call it MCHS or Middle College.

I was subbing for an AVID 12/English 11 teacher. And no – for the nonlinear crowd, AVID in this case is NOT a software program, but a class which focuses students on getting into college.

Both English classes are studying Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Now I’ve read excerpts in the (distant) past and have a fair grasp of the intent of the essay and today listened to student presentations and led discussions with students on the topic.

Civil disobedience: dissent without violence. The song of my generation (which did turn ugly at times). Basically outright refusing to acknowledge what one might consider unjust laws. War. Segregation.

And today? The lone voices of the past have exploded into a crescendoing calliope, a mountainous roar of masses crying out, “Unfair!”

Think John Tyner protecting his “assets” from what he viewed as overzealous airport security earlier this week. He refused to submit to a personal body search and chose not to fly when told he had to submit. Civil disobedience in action.

So after the presentations (excellent both of you!) and the class discussion of homework, we did a bit of role playing in MY areas of expertise. How does the media use civil disobedience.

Actor #1 – a simple yet honest cop protecting a crime scene
Actor #2 – a simple yet honest TV cameraman covering the crime
Action – Cop standing casually on scene. Photog walks up, says hi, and starts to shoot scene. Cop block Photog and says not photography. Discussion between the two ensues.

OK…so in the class this erupted into a shouting match and nearly had the cop drawing his (finger) gun and taking out the “shooter.” We walked it through a second time and I got to be the cameraman. No acting necessary.

Action: Cop standing…I walk up and say hi and aim camera…Cop says no photography. In real life that body ain’t gonna move. So this time, a calmer discussion.
Him: No photography.
Me: I’m with Channel 10 covering this story.
Him: I can’t allow any pictures to be taken. Now go away.
Me: You know, there’s a section of the California Penal Code that actually allows the media access to crime scenes.
Him: Really…no photos
Me: It’s PC409.5. Look – why don’t you call your superior officer. I’ll put the camera down and wait until you get clarification.
End of discussion, assuming the superior knows the law.
And a practical application of civil disobedience.

Time for a short rant for the pros out there.
This scenario is repeated WAY too often. The line cops…the guys who are on the streets every day and every night…are not always informed of or knowledgeable about media rights. They learn, but too often the hard way – in confrontations in the field under stress dealing with equally stressed news crews. Like many of you, I’ve pleaded and shouted to get access. I’ve ignored orders from law enforcement when I knew they were wrong and risked arrest just to get the picture…the story…for the public.

And in these uncertain times, when security is rampant and civil rights are being locked up in the name of safety, even photography is considered a crime – a potential terrorist plot. You want examples? Check out Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not a Crime site.

Oh – and don’t do this for amusement folks. Every act of civil disobedience has consequences. Some minor – some not so. Think first – act second. Be prepared to explain and defend your thinking and your actions. Be prepared to suffer the consequences and please do NOT say, it ain’t fair. It isn’t. That’s why you’re disobeying. Civilly, of course.

Note to students: word choice is critical to good writing. I took a fifteen or twenty minute break to hunt down two words: crescendo and calliope. Crescendo (thank you Roget’s) means “increase” and calliope is a very noisy carnival music maker, rather outlandish. Both were buried in my brain, but each has the exact nuance…targeted meaning I wanted. Plus they add a bit of alliteration of what could otherwise be a dull piece of work.

Yeah, that’s me. Ever the English teacher. With a trigger finger on the record button.

One thought on “Civil disobedience…

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