The Civil Disobedience Handbook: Edited by James Tracy, paperback, 95 pgs By Sean Carswell

Feb 02, 2011

I almost never go to malls.  I hate them.  It’s not the unbridled consumerism that makes me hate malls.  It’s not overall cheesiness or the fact that all the clothes sold in malls are ridiculously overpriced and were sewn for pennies in sweatshops throughout the world.  It’s not the fact that, like the mass media, all the stores in most malls are owned by a few elite corporations.  I mean, all that stuff bugs me.  All of that explains why malls are fundamentally evil places.  But whenever I find myself stuck in a mall, I look at the faces and clothing of people walking by, and I inevitably realize that these are the people on whom advertising works.  I look at these people in their name brand clothes and name brand shoes, wearing name brand make-up, carrying name brand bags from name brand stores and walking to name brand cars, and I think to myself, “If all you bastards weren’t such suckers for advertising, I wouldn’t be constantly beseiged by ads.”  And then, I feel hatred.  It may seem as if I’m digressing here, but I’m not.  I’m working myself towards a point.

I got stuck in a mall the other day.  It wasn’t my fault.  I was getting film developed and they told me it would only take an hour.  When I came back an hour later, they told me it would be another half hour.  Then another half hour.  Then another.  I ended up sitting at a table adjacent to the Nordstrom’s coffee shop for nearly two hours.  Since I wanted to do something more productive than just sit and stare loathingly at name brand fuckers, I started to read The Civil Disobedience Handbook.  It soon became the perfect antidote for everything I was feeling.

The Civil Disobedience Handbook is essentially a collection of essays and tidbits about different ways people have fought and continue to fight for change in their world.  It starts off with a brief preface explaining why civil disobedience still matters.  From there, the book runs through a series of short chapters documenting the positive changes that civil disobedience has brought about: casting off the shackles of the British Empire, ending slavery, giving women the right to vote, creating the eight-hour workday, restoring civil rights, protecting a woman’s right to an abortion, and moving all the way up to closing down the WTO meetings in Seattle in 1999.  None of these chapters do a very thorough job of covering these historical issues, but together, the chapters do an excellent job of demonstrating the historical (and current) importance of activism and protest.  Among these short chapters are also reprints of the Bill of Rights, of Henry David Thoreau’s essay “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, and of the USA PATRIOT Act. These three reprints alone make the book worth the ten bucks.

Beyond this, though, The CD Handbook also has several chapters explaining the nuts and bolts of protests and civil disobedience.  These chapters give sensible, practical, and detailed advice on how to stage a protest, what to expect, and how to be prepared for the inevitable backlash.  They also give detailed, practical advice on how to raise a ruckus.  It’s these chapters that particularly impressed me because they do something that is very rare in political and activist writing: they offer solutions to the problems they discuss.

I ended up reading nearly this entire book while I sat in that mall food court, and perhaps it was my surroundings and the anger that my surroundings fed me, but the book hit me just right.  As I was surrounded by the unbridled consumerism, the destruction of workers rights, and the unquestioning loyalty to our corporate culture, I had in my hands something that was, if not an answer, it was at least a start to solving a lot of societies problems.  And that’s why I recommend this book. –Sean (Manic D, PO Box 410804, SF, CA94141)