Civil disobedience vs civil obedience: when is each appropriate

Crossing the line, and knowing where the line is.

Wikipedia: Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. Civil disobedience is commonly, though not always, defined as being nonviolent resistance.

Daniel Ellsberg taught me about Non-Violent “Civil Disobedience”, Dr. Tod Mikuriya taught me the courage of “Civil Obedience”, when the law IS on our side. People often thank me for taking a courageous stand on the issue of medical cannabis,
but to me, this was just a natural extension of what I learned in my anti-nuclear activism or more correctly “actionism”.

My first anti-nuclear action was in January of 1991. Some friends were going to Nevada for a special weekend seminar on nuclear testing held in Las Vegas, and culminating with a trip to the Nevada Test Site (NTS) 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
On the last evening in Las Vegas, Daniel Ellsberg was the speaker, and there was discussion of the actions to be undertaken the next day at the NTS. He then said something to the effect of “There is no more powerful feeling than taking your own freedom in your hands, and risking arrest for a cause you hold dear.”

He then followed with: “Of course, I warn you, it could be addictive. I’ve been arrested dozens of times.”

THAT intrigued me!

My First Arrest

The day of the actions, I decided I would also cross the line.

During the anti-nuclear actions at the Nevada Test Site, some literally “cross the line,” walk onto the Test Site, and voluntarily get arrested in non-violent action.

There is some ceremony and choreography to it.

First, a Western Shoshone elder makes a statement of how the test site is on native land, granted to his tribe by the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863, and that the anti-nuclear protestors have his permission to be there, (while the Department of Energy and its representatives do not).

He then states that some of those present will risk arrest by walking onto the land.

If you plan to risk arrest at the NTS, you are advised to take the non-Violence course they teach the day before the actions. That way you and others protesting will be better prepared to minimize any harm to yourself or those around you, both legally, and physically.

Non-violence includes being verbally non-violent.

We are reminded that hateful, or unnecessarily negative language can affect the guards whose responsibility it is to arrest you, if, and when, you cross the line.

Believe me, you don’t want to scare people armed with guns.

My first act of civil disobedience went well. Some of us crossed over the line, were arrested, placed in plastic handcuffs, and led onto waiting buses, for the 1 hour ride to Beatty, Nevada, where we were “cited” or given a ticket, and released. Part of the preparations for actions like this included having someone agree to be your spotter, to follow your bus to Beatty to pick you up and bring you back.

2nd Arrest

By April 1992, I was more of an organizer, and took on responsibility for the medical services for a large event we called the Hundredth Monkey Project, in which we had a concert of 5,000 people outside of Las Vegas, then 500 of us commenced a 6 day walk to Peace Camp, near the Test Site, and then we had another weekend of music and actions at the gates of the Test Site. Because I was an organizer, and coordinating the medical team for this event, I didn’t intend to get arrested.

I  had a videocamera, and as a “legal witness,” I let the guards know I was watching, and videotaping any misbehavior on their part.

Apparently too much in their face…

Within minutes, I found myself PULLED over the line, and arrested!

Fortunately, I was able to hand my videocamera over the line to a friend, and was escorted to the “holding pen”.

Ah! A lesson to be learned

Not only is it important to know where the line is, but it’s a good idea NOT to stand TOO CLOSE to the line, especially if you’re putting a camera in the authorities face. Real journalists often get arrested, and sometimes die, getting their stories at the front line!

Fast forward to 1996 to present

14 years of medical cannabis law, and still enough unclarity because of the disparity between federal and state law.

The years have brought some important decisions that you may have heard me talk about before, like Raich v. Ashcroft, which reinforced that cannabis is still illegal under federal law, and Conant v. Walters, which protects doctors FEDERALLY in making the recommedation, under certain circumstances: i.e.: they don’t “aid and abet” the patient in breaking federal law.

More on this later, especially for some of you doctors and dispensaries out there who still think it a great idea to collude to increase your profits!

You’re not protected either federally or by State law, but are actually now DEA targets.

That’s not only standing too close to the line, but actually crossing it and pretending you’re not.

That’s not civil disobedience, that’s ignorance and greed.

Frank Lucido MD has been practicing Family Medicine in Berkeley since 1979, and will continue to do so even after marijuana has been legalized.


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