Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is Civil Disobedience an Effective Means of Education?

Issue 12 of the Voluntaryist relays the story of George Meeks, who was charged with civil contempt for not supplying records to the IRS. He said he did not have the records they requested and claimed 5th amendment rights as protection from further questioning.

Meeks was jailed for a couple of months at the end of 1980 and then released on appeal. The government then appealed but that court did not hear the case, saying they already ruled in a similar suit (U.S. v. Rylander). This ruling backed up the government so Meeks’ was jailed again in 1984 under the original contempt order.

(I found a couple of links related to this case from the United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit. Here’s a link from an appeal in April 1981. And I found this link that appears to be the judgment based on Rylander.

After 6 months of imprisonment, his attorney requested a jury trial, but this never happened. At the time this issue was published, Carl thought he was still in jail but in Issue 13, we learn that he was released in early December.

The story about his release is in Issue 13, which explains that it may have had something to do with media attention because he was released soon after being contacted by the television news show "60 minutes."

In the original article Carl explains that he spoke with Meeks a couple of times and also sent him Voluntaryist information. According to Carl, Meeks claimed he was coming closer and closer to a Voluntaryist outlook, particularly in regard to using constitutional arguments as a defense against the state:

"Although George started out defending his position by reference to the U.S. Constitution and limited government, he admitted to me on the phone that he was coming closer and closer to a voluntaryist outlook. The government refers to the 5th Amendment as a privilege and not a right and it treats it as such. A privilege can be revoked at the command of the government, whereas an inherent right cannot be. I think George realizes that people should look more towards their natural rights as individuals and rely on their distrust of governmental power rather than anticipating that laws and constitutions will secure their liberty. It is certain (and history has proven it time and again) that if we allow government to "guarantee" our rights for us, we will most likely end up losing them. Any government that is strong enough to "guarantee" rights is automatically suspect and probably already strong enough to violate them. As Voluntaryists realize, the State is no less an invasive institution whether it is bound by a Constitution or not. Constitutions are window-dressing, nothing more."

As I usually do when I read about someone in this publication, I was interested in what happened to George Meeks after this experience. Did Meeks continue to study the principles of Voluntaryism? Did he move toward non-political action? Here are some links I found that may answer that question though I understand they do not necessarily tell us everything there is to know:

Wow, I have to say that last link was interesting. I’ve never been to a Libertarian Party event where the pledge of allegiance was recited. It makes me wonder if any of these people have since moved to the Tea Party so they could “get something accomplished.”

I don’t mean to be annoying to those involved in politics, I’m just trying to understand how people move towards a non-political viewpoint and also what are effective means to help educate others.

Some believe that civil disobedience and openly fighting the state is an effective way to expose the truth because people can observe the state in action. This is supposed to help them better understand the force involved which makes sense to some extent.

But what lesson can be learned from Meeks’ story? I can’t help but wonder how much the observation of civil disobedience can help to educate others when it appears that an actual experience itself didn’t seem to do it for Meeks when he was the guy who was jailed for not complying.

There must be more to it.


Paul said...

RE: is civil disobedience an effective means of education?

In the past it might have been IF the mainstream media (MSM) supported your goals and gave you lots of coverage and the proper spin. A good example would be the 1960's civil rights movement. The national media outlets were in favor of the work of Dr. King and others and saturated the airwaves and newspapers of the day with positive coverage and lots of it.

The type of civil disobedience and causes associated with the freedom movement are NOT supported by the MSM and when liberty lovers do engage in civil disobedience or educational efforts the MSM either ignores them or ridicules them and puts a negative spin on it.
Examples would be things like the "don't touch my junk" TSA protests that the MSM spun as being ridiculous and/or marginal. If these protests start to get into the consciousness of the average Joe on the street the MSM will then run lots of stories to counter these protests/these stories. Follwing on the heels of 'don't touch my junk' it seemed like every news show and newspaper carried interviews with people at airports who said they had no problem with being irradiated or groped.

With the internet it is possible to get more coverage out there about freedom movement civil disobedience, but the audience self selects to get the info re: such protests and it ends up being a case of preaching to the choir.

MamaLiberty said...

Paul, I wonder what you consider the "proper spin." Who decides?

And people do self select their news source, in every medium. Some will search out varied ideas, opinions and "spins." Some won't. The important thing is to leave each person free to choose - what they write and what they read.

If people choose to believe lies, then they will. Not a darn thing you can do about it except to continue telling the truth.

But it is amazing how often the lies are revealed and how many are catching on.

Paul said...


When I said proper spin I meant that the MSM puts the protests/protestors in a positive light and those who oppose such protests in a negative light.

I agree that all we can do is tell the truth and keep telling it.