Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wrench in the Works Not Always Regressive

A clerk in Kentucky refuses to issue marriage licenses for same sex couples because doing so runs against her deeply held convictions. That triggers a storm of indignation, much of it claiming she should just "do her job," because that is seen as a higher moral imperative.

Whether or not one agrees with Kim Davis's conviction, one has to admit her tactic has worked to gain attention. 

The internet has flooded with examples of people disagreeing with their duties but doing them anyway as a way to show how "wrong" Kim Davis is. Even Han Solo didn't believe in The Force, but still flew the Millennium Falcon. The line of reasoning has a kind of populist appeal, but is incomplete, dangerous if carried to excess.

Refusing to work or slowing work or going on strike are all great ways to protest some social practice or policy. The sit-down strikes in the 30s at US automaker's plants ended up helping workers get better conditions. Thoreau's civil disobedience drew attention to taxes used for unjust wars.

It's not Davis's not working that bothers me, it's her reasons for doing so.

She supports beliefs that limit and exclude people from rights and freedoms that other people enjoy. She wants to maintain an exclusive, narrow, privileged definition of legitimate love relationship.

She is not a Martin Luther King Jr. refusing to support the bus service in Montgomery Alabama. She is a vestige of fear and bias. She is not a Ghandi refusing to buy manufactured textiles from an Imperial power. She is saying no to people wanting to commit to love. She is not the Sanctuary volunteer who goes to jail because he believes a refugee should be given asylum. She is saying no to broadening the images of what love looks like.

She is in good company. There are many who want to restrict changes that open and broaden acceptance and opportunity of all kinds. We live in an economy with one of the least egalitarian distributions of income on the planet with billionaires that want to keep it that way. We work more, with less time off than much of the rest of the world. We don't give leave for mothers to care for new-born children. We let people go bankrupt when they get sick. We let schools implode for lack of funding. We keep people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder from rising out of poverty by limiting opportunity and education. We build prisons rather than schools. The list is long, and all of us keep it going by just "doing our jobs."

In a system where going to work might be perpetuating an injustice, it may not be a good idea to make "doing one's job" the highest good. That's what the big powers want us all to believe. Corporations want workers to park their values at the door and get to the work of increasing the bottom line, no matter the consequences.

Saying "no" to the big machines may be one of the few tactics remaining because it is a way to say "yes" to bigger freedoms, more inclusion, more opportunity, and more equality.

So, Kim, I don't agree with your reasons, but do respect your tactics.

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