Noncompliance: the Path to Liberty
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson
Over the past several years, Americans have seen an increase in enforcement action against individuals engaging in normal, peaceful human behaviors. Many of these enforcement actions have blatantly targeted small farmers and others in the local food distribution chain.
In a normal culture, no one would even think twice about whether they had the right to grow, eat and share their own food with their family and community. They would simply do it. And yet, here we are in the 21st century so acclimated to readily accessible food, that we have become dissociated from the actual process–and empowerment–of producing our own food. When we hear about government regulators controlling what farmers can grow, eat and distribute, it doesn’t really impact us as an immediate, personal loss of the most basic freedom: the freedom to grow and eat our own food as we choose.
I am an outspoken activist on food freedom issues, and a proponent of peaceful non-compliance against the laws that criminalize farmers being farmers. Because I have taken this position, people often ask me if I am afraid of enforcers taking action against me over my blatant disregard for the regulations that give them power and control over peaceable people.
My answer is always as quick as it is clear:
Of course I’m scared.
But I am even more terrified of what will happen if I, and others, do not take a stand and take action now. When I express indignation at the brutalities I see, often by those professing to protect us, people frequently respond that we have nothing to worry about, that tyranny could not possibly happen here. In America. In the 21st century.
And to those skeptics I ask, “Why not?”
We cannot understand liberty, or oppression, without looking at history. History teaches us unequivocally that non-discerning obedience to authority results in frightful numbers of deaths and the certain demise of personal liberty.
History teaches us what happens when a population obeys absurd and inane dictates of the government out of ignorance, apathy…or fear.
A few examples include, but are sadly not limited to:
- Trail of Tears
- Russian Pogroms
- American legalized slavery
- “Jim Crow” Laws
- Nazi occupied Europe
- Ruby Ridge
And many, many others, culminating in 262 million deaths by democide (the killing of citizens by their own government) in this past century alone.
These deaths occurred, and continue to occur today, because people put faith in a system that fails us.
Sadly, this country was founded on genocide and slavery. Our “economy” was dependent on destroying people’s lives by killing some and “owning” others. Once slavery officially ended, it was replaced with a cultural acceptance of lynching, unwarranted prison sentences and segregation that only ended with the deaths and injuries of thousands who simply said “no.” No, they would not obey government dictates criminalizing them for natural, voluntary human behavior.
After the violent end of legalized segregation, the assumed theory was that the justice system served everyone equally. That theory has repeatedly proven false with incarceration levels here higher than any other country and more blacks imprisoned now than during the time of the Jim Crow laws.
People can justify all sorts of cruelties—for many, legality equates to morality. But, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly points out in his letters, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”
To those who think that our soldiers, police and regulators are heroes who protect the safety and the lives of your family, look around you and ask the hard questions. When people are not free to voluntarily exchange food, when people can legally be held indefinitely without charge, when nearly everything you write, and say and do is monitored and recorded, exactly what freedoms are actually being protected?
By supporting a system that continuously criminalizes peaceful human behavior you are supporting a system that will, inevitably, result in despotism.
Active, peaceful non-compliance at least gives liberty and life a chance. With strong examples of non-compliance from farmers, along with our daily choices in who we support, for many of us, our story can have a different, happier conclusion than the examples above.
Often the individual farmers targeted for violent “enforcement,” are those who peacefully, proudly, and righteously stand up to their oppressors by simply, gently saying “No.” “No, we will not stop farming. No, we will not stop feeding our communities. We will stand for our natural right to farm, and we will continue to nourish our families and our communities.”
This courage in the face of oppression compassionately invites oppressors–often called “agents”–to explore the possibility that they have choices as well. These public servants can refuse to cooperate with a system that has grown to the proportions of tyranny illustrated throughout history; it is their choice to participate in something as egregious and demeaning as the examples above, or not.
As difficult as it may be to acknowledge, the unfortunate truth is that we are in a place today where we all need to calmly ask the members of our militarized police whether they will continue to enforce unjust, discriminatory orders that violate basic human rights. Captain Von Trapp, immortalized by the movie, The Sound of Music, was a real person with a place of prestige in his military, society and culture. He left everything he knew, everything he had because he could not tolerate the horrors happening in Nazi-occupied Austria. He saw the dangers of compliance.
Sometimes, to nourish liberty, we have to ask in our hearts, “is this right?” And listen to the answer. If our current beliefs support unjust actions by our own government we have to change our beliefs. When our beliefs change, our actions change, when our actions change, we change the beliefs of those around us and we change the world. There is courage in the daily actions we take to transform a cultural norm. It takes courage to leave what you have known before because it has become so perverse you do not recognize it. It is in these simple, and not-so-simple acts of non-compliance, of listening to the heart to tell you what is right, that many individual voices become a chorus large enough to change the world.
Whatever the threats might be for non-compliance in a vastly unjust system, the dangers of compliance are far greater. Obedience to oppression serves no one. Yes, I AM scared that one day I might face a courtroom, perhaps even jail for my continued and increasing actions in support of food freedom. But I am even more terrified of the world my children will inherit if I, and others, do not take a stand now.
To my brothers and sisters in non-compliance, THANK YOU! Thank you for serving the world, each in your way. Thank you for the risks you take and the sacrifices you make. To those who know in your heart what is right but are timid or afraid, I feel you. I know you. I am you. And you do have the courage. You can take the steps. You can choose non-compliance wherever you are and whatever you do. Changing belief in the system is the first step, but action is equally important. Our actions help inform and encourage the resolve of our brothers and sisters in law enforcement to stand for what is right as well. If we do not, they cannot.
I often get the feeling of inadequacy—who am I to offer my non-compliance? Am I able to create effective change? What difference could my actions possibly make in this sea of violence? Perhaps some of you feel the same way. But the real question is: Who am I NOT to do this? And who are you NOT to? Yes, I am asking you to do something difficult. Change is never easy, especially when it entails some degree of risk. But we can do difficult tasks. And we can endure risks when we know what we are doing is right, when we see and accept that the risk of not doing anything is greater. Most importantly, we can endure risks when we gather with others doing the same. Each one of us, standing for justice now, takes another piece of that risk away from those who have stood before us, and from those that will stand with us in the future. Each one of us who is willing to speak truth to power, to openly defend basic principles of freedom and self-determination, opens the door for one or two, or ten or a hundred others to say, “This is not right. It must stop.”
As we let our own light shine, we give others the power to do the same.
This is our challenge, and our great privilege. It is time that we lift our vision and expectations beyond basic survival and uncertain hope of personal wealth and security, to a sure knowledge of well-being and belonging in our communities. It is time that we let our government know that we know how to do this, and more to the point, it is time that we know it for ourselves.
It is time we stop acting as if we are dependent on government for our safety and security.
And we should not have to question whether our safety and security is threatened by our own government. Go grow your garden! Talk to your neighbors and help them grow theirs. Do whatever you see needs doing that will make your family and your community stronger and more secure. Organize community exchanges: for food, services and goods.
Through the power of each of our individual choices, it is our splendid opportunity to live and act together in peace and to teach and remind ourselves to Nourish Liberty every day.