Many people ask, "Why is it necessary to risk getting arrested at a demonstration? Why isn't it enough to march and carry our banners and sing our songs but not break any laws?" It certainly is not necessary to get arrested to have an effective action, but getting arrested can be part of a strategy of actions.
People have tried many different ways to be heard regarding the construction of Temelin. We have signed petitions, written letters to the government, and lobbied in Prague. We commissioned experts to study the Temelin plant and show that it is not necessary. We have other studies showing it is not safe. We have organized a large symbolic demonstration every year for the last several years. We have uncovered illegal activities by Westinghouse in getting the Temelin contract, but the Czech courts are not interested and the Ministry of Interior (controled by the government) covered it up. We have gone to Washington DC USA and collected the signatures of over 50 representatives of the US government concerned with the US lending money for Temelin. We have demanded an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which is required by law. The media is frequently uninterested in these types of actions and the decision makers feel safe in ignoring us.
Civil disobedience is one of the strongest political statements a person can make. By getting arrested, you cogently communicate, "I oppose this and I will work to physically stop it, even if that means breaking the law." Civil disobedience is giving up a dialogue where you can be ignored in favor of action, where you can not be.
Nonviolent, civil disobedient actions (those where people are risking arrest) are a way to send a louder message. Recent Chernobyl anniversary actions provide a good example. There were two actions in the same location in three days. The first was a march of several thousand people, similar to the march that has been held for the last few years on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The march received some coverage in the Czech and Austrian newspapers. Two days later, there was an arrest action of 40 people. Almost all Czech papers carried the story-many on the front page. It was widely covered in Austria in both print and on television. It also was covered by Dutch TV, the largest newspaper in Poland, several German newspapers, and even Ukrainian radio!
But getting press is not a good enough reason to justify breaking the law. The purpose of these types of direct actions is to actually slow down the process of building the plant. It is through these kinds of actions that nuclear power was halted in the West, where both legal appeals and civil disobedience were used to draw attention to the environmental danger and economic foolishness of nuclear plants. These actions also resulted in delays that actually increased the cost of nuclear power somewhat in monetary terms, which is where "the powers that be" begin to pay attention. But mostly, it increased the political cost of this option - elected officials and public utilities had to deal directly with an angry public. Public utilities could not simply ignore the fact that building a nuclear facility could result in hundreds and even thousands of people getting arrested and crowding the jails. Though demonstrators are usually held for only a day or two, this is more than just a headache - it adds significantly to the work of the police and the courts.
But effectiveness is not a sufficient justification for civil disobedience, either. Well-planned actions that risk arrest make a statement of our commitment and about the methods with which we work. They say, in effect, "Something is seriously wrong here and we feel so strongly about it that we are willing to break the law and potential consequences of our actions (fines, imprisonment, a resulting criminal record) to try to stop this mistake from occurring."
Highly visible arrest actions help to get more people involved in the movement. Governments, even freely elected goverments, make mistakes that people have a responsibility to correct. And, yes, even protesters make mistakes. The reason for nonviolent civil disobedience is that there is some chance we are wrong. There is some chance that Temelin is the best solution for the Czech Republic. There is a chance that it will operate without accident; that a safe and reasonably priced solution to the waste problems will be found; that the project will be completed on time and under the budget agreed in the contract; that other energy solutions (like efficiency, renewables sources, or co-generation) will be impossible or far more expensive than thought. In this case, our tactic, civil disobedience, will result in wider public awareness and bring the govermental debate a higher level than before. There is always time to build more reactors if an educated public and thorough goverment decides atomic power is the best solution.
There is one more dividend from civil disobedience. The people who are willing to make this kind of effort and to assume this risk are frequently extraordinary people with high principles and deep commitment. Friendships and alliances with these kinds of people can change your life.
People who are arrested need support and the camp itself needs support, and without people actively avoiding getting arrested this crticial work will not get done and the action will fail.
One of the best structures for dealing with this division of responsibility is the affinity group. "Affinity" means attraction and usually affinity groups are groups of friends or at least of people who know and trust each other. Affinity groups differ in size, but are usually larger than three and smaller than 20. In this size it is possible to meet as a group and everyone´s ideas can be heard without having long meetings.
It is generally decided in the affinity group before the action who will get arrested and who will do support. Support responsibilities include tracking the arrested members of the group through the system. Depending on the action this may include holding their identification until they decide that they want to be identified, working with their lawyer and reporting their arrest status back to the affinity group, other friends and family. In longer term jail sentences (not expected at Temelin and there has never been one yet), support people also help to take care of the life of the person who is in jail. Feeding their plants and animals, making sure bills get paid and people get told about their situation who need to know.
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