Only Civil Disobedience?

Future Hope column, February 1, 2011

By Ted Glick

About a week ago I started hearing from friends that I had been criticized in a column by Chris Hedges, “Where Liberals Go to Feel Good,” online at

In his column Hedges paints a picture of me as someone who likes to organize “conferences. . . designed to elevate self-appointed liberal apologists who seek to become advisers and courtiers within the Democratic Party.” He counterposes this picture with what he considers to be the appropriate response to what is happening in the USA: “the only gatherings worth attending from now on are acts that organize civil disobedience.”

Hedges quotes selectively from “The Third Force Idea,” my most recent Future Hope column, online at He quotes the part of it where I write that, after 36 years of being involved in efforts to form a strong and mass-based alternative party to the Democrats and Republicans, I’m convinced that, to have a chance of overcoming the corporate powers-that-be, we need a “third force” strategy which consciously brings together progressive Democrats, Green Party members and other independents.

There’s a lot more that Hedges didn’t quote or reference, such as when I write that “the second decade of this century must be the decade of people’s power. We must be about inspiring, nurturing and organizing millions of people to assert and organize for their right to live decently and with dignity in a world with clean air, clean water, clean energy and in balance with our natural environment. All of our tactics, including electoral tactics, must always be determined with this overriding objective in mind.”

And here’s what I say about civil disobedience: “The third force must appreciate the lesson of history that mass movements, to be successful, must up the ante, push the envelope, risk arrest in order to underline the urgency and seriousness of the situation we are in.”

These aren’t just words. As I write I’m in the eighth month of one year’s probation, part of my sentence for a civil disobedience action in September of 2009 where I and several others hung 50-foot-long banners inside the Hart Senate Office Building saying, “Green Jobs Now” and “Get to Work.” I’m involved in planning right now with a number of groups for a major day of climate action, including civil disobedience, in Washington, D.C. on April 18th, the last day of a big Power Shift ( conference of thousands of students and others from around the country. I’ve been arrested 16 times over the last 40 years for acts of nonviolent civil resistance and spent 11 months in prison for draft resistance during the Vietnam War. And I’ve been on 20 hunger strikes of 12 days or longer, including a climate emergency fast that went 107 days in the late summer and fall of 2007.

So Hedges and I are in agreement that, in his words, we need to “militantly stand against the coal, oil and natural gas industry. . . pre-emptive war and occupation. . . the criminal class on Wall Street. . . Democratic Party collaborat[ion] with these corporations.”

Where we aren’t in agreement is to believe that “the only gatherings worth attending from now on are acts that organize civil disobedience.” Or that anyone who is a Democrat is our mortal enemy.

It’s as if the current political reality in the U.S. is similar to the current political reality in Egypt today, with huge masses of people taking action against the government in the streets.

This is not our situation. And we won’t get to it if the only tactic we consider to be valid is civil disobedience actions by radicals and revolutionaries.

What is it that makes history, that brings about change? Ultimately it is masses of people, hundreds of thousands, millions, willing to take action on behalf of something new and positive. Before we get to that point, we need multi-issue, multi-tactical alliances that strengthen the work of tens of thousands of organizers, the people doing the day-to-day work within workplaces and communities, to keep a fighting spirit and knowledge of how to organize alive and growing at the grassroots.

I wish it didn’t take so long. I wish it wasn’t so hard and complicated. I wish there was just one tactic that would somehow lead to the new world, the new system, we so desperately need. But there isn’t.

We need, we absolutely need, more and more people stepping forward to participate in acts of nonviolent civil resistance. We need to strengthen and build on-going organizing around the immediate issues facing our peoples in their daily lives. We need issue-based movements. We need groups like the Green Party which hold high the banner of the need for an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. And we need a broadly-based, progressive alliance, a third force, which unites behind a common program to engage in various forms of action, from direct action to electoral.

As I said at the end of “The Third Force Idea,” and as I think Chris would agree, “Our country and our world are in deep, deep trouble. What we do here in the USA this decade will be decisive for those who come after us. Time is running out to reverse the many very real crises that are driving humanity and all life forms toward the abyss. History is calling upon us to step it up now. “

Ted Glick has been active in the climate movement since 2004 and a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and more information can be found at