5 Examples of Civil Disobedience We Can Learn From in 2018

In 2017, marginalized folks fought back, marched, and campaigned unceasingly to protect ourselves, our friends, and our communities.  

In a year where the Trump administration’s attacks were often perfectly legal, activists relied on direct action and civil disobedience as essential strategies to do what petitions and congressional phone calls could not. 

Here are some moments of 2017 activism I found particularly inspiring. 

ADAPT leads the fight against the ACA Repeal

This summer, the GOP attempted to strip healthcare from millions of people, myself included. And meeting them at every turn — holding massive die-ins, interrupting hearings, and being dragged away by Capitol police — was ADAPT. With disabled queer women and women of color leading the fight, ADAPT activists put their bodies on the line to demand that Congress prioritize the lives of people with disabilities that rely on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. And they won!  

Black activists take down Confederate monuments

The events in Charlottesville — where fascists and Nazis beat people of color, caused widespread terror, and murdered Heather Heyer while law enforcement stood by and watched — revived public outcry over the glorification of Confederate monuments around the country. While elected officials dragged their feet and wrung their hands about “violence on both sides,” black anti- fascist activists in Durham didn’t hesitate. At a solidarity protest with Charlottesville, a group of black leftist activists pulled down a statue of Robert E. Lee in front of the Durham County Courthouse when their elected officials failed to do so. As activist Takiyah Thompson said of the group’s actions: “When enough people are angry, we don’t have to look to politicians to sit around in air conditioning and do nothing when we can do things ourselves.”

You can donate to the Durham Solidarity Center Bail Fund to help with the group’s ongoing legal fees.

Durham activists via Rodney Dunning and The Nation

Durham Activists by Rodney Dunning via The Nation

German pilots stop deportations of asylum seekers

Following in the theme of people “doing it themselves,” German pilots prevented 222 asylum seekers from being deported by refusing to fly planes carrying people whose asylum cases were rejected by the German government. In the first nine months of 2017, several German pilots independently  refused to fly planes carrying people who were being deported, in defiance of orders and at risk of disciplinary action. Similarly, a UK pilot refused to fly a plane carrying a young man facing murder in Afghanistan after the UK government rejected his case.

Boston interfaith coalition provides sanctuary for immigrants facing deportation

While “progressive” Massachusetts allows ICE raids and illegally deports community activists, Boston-area churches have stepped forward to protect immigrant communities. Part of a national Sanctuary Movement, the Boston interfaith network is providing physical sanctuary and support to people facing final deportation orders and embodying a call to love thy neighbor. I’m proud to know two of the organizers — Nestor Pimienta and Gaby Chaves who — who have worked tirelessly to mobilize resources  (translation, meals, childcare) to support immigrant communities. You can learn more and get involved here.

Undocumented activists shut it down for a Clean Dream Act  

As I write this, thousands of undocumented youth and their allies have been shutting down Congress, demanding a Clean Dream Act. Since the Trump administration rescinded DACA in September, undocumented youth have been walking out, speaking out, hunger striking, and shutting it down to demand permanent safety and protection for all undocumented people. Their actions are a response to bipartisan political indifference  — as we saw at the end of the year, Democrats paid lip service to protecting  “good” immigrants, but ultimately reneged on their promises to Dreamers. They will not do the right thing unless they are pushed, and undocumented activists will continue to push them.

Follow Cosecha, United We Dream and NAKASEC to learn about how you can help.

This year has proven to white, liberal, upper/middle class people what marginalized folks have always known: No one is coming to save us. We cannot rely on elected officials or oppressive state institutions to protect us out of the goodness of their hearts. But in dark times, we have the power to change the status quo. We can protect one another and push the ball forward. We can create the world we yearn for.

On the subject of setbacks and losses, prison abolitionist (and personal hero) Mariame Kaba says, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.”

2017 was a year of radicalizing. I am hopeful for another year of causing trouble and creating change in 2018.


Header image: Lonnie Smith and Dawn Russell of ADAPT via John Leyba, The Denver Post

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, cat parent, and LGBTQ person living in Boston, MA. At Feministing, Jess writes about the intersection of state and interpersonal violence, LGBTQ communities and radical activism. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

Jess is a first-gen college graduate, cat parent, and LGBTQ person living in Boston, MA. They can usually be found on public transportation or the internet.

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