Public Comment

UC Berkeley Policy on Civil Disobedience

By James Alnas-Benson
Saturday November 12, 2011 - 05:44:00 PM

Chancellor Birgeneau emailed the UC Berkeley Community on Thursday. I quote: “It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.” 

The idea that linking arms and blocking officers is violent (what “not non-violent” means) is wrong, and taken to it’s logical conclusion denies the possibility of effective non-violent civil disobedience and justifies the use of force in response. This is bad thinking leading to bad policy and wrong action. 

The Chancellor distinguishes between “true non-violent disobedience” and “not non-violent disobedience.” There is a difference, but the student’s disobedience is violent only if they prevent police from stopping a violent crime. Otherwise wherein lies the violence? If the linking of arms is violent on its own merits we are forced to conclude that violence stems from disobedience, and therefore there can be no disobedience without violence. 

If this is true there can be no non-violent disobedience. And if this avenue is closed, then what recourse is left? The Chancellor’s position on this matter is dangerous indeed.