Rapinoe and Rackete: Two captains of civil disobedience to inhuman orders

Carola Rackete was arrested after helping to bring migrants safely to shore.

By Pietro Ameglio, Desinformémonos, 12 July, 2019, México

Carola Rackete and Megan Rapinoe are two young women, both captains in their very different domains, of the sea and soccer football, just over thirty years old, German and American respectively who, in recent days, decided to defy authority, in different but equally radical ways (“radical” in the sense of going to the root), to show us all the way to build a “moral frontier” in one’s own identity, by openly and publicly challenging authorities who were practicing inhuman orders.

Civil disobedience against Salvini

Carola Rackete, captain of Sea Watch 3 (650 tons displacement, Dutch flag search and rescue ship), which is part of a German NGO (headquartered in Berlin) of the same name which rescues shipwrecked migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, on 29 June, docked her boat at the Italian port of Lampedusa, in Sicily, in defiance of orders not to do so, in the process ramming a Coast Guard launch which –invoking jurisdiction over Italian territorial waters—was determined to stop her. Thus, she saved 40 migrants she had previously rescued from the waters of the Mediterranean.

The migrants and crew were reaching the limits of survival, and in total desperation; this was the deciding factor for the captain to adopt this moral and material decision, made especially acute by waiting for 48 hours in front of the port for permission to land. The punishment requested by the extreme right wing Italian government was ten years imprisonment on the grounds of disobedience, attacking a warship, aiding clandestine immigration, and navigation in restricted zones.

“It was not an act of violence, but of disobedience… I was under no obligation to obey”, said Carola. The Italian authorities were ordering her to take the migrants back to Libya, from where they had been rescued in their attempt to escape from a civil war.

Captain Rackete also added: “I feel the moral imperative to help somebody who has not had the same opportunities I had… I know what I’m risking, but the 42 shipwrecked migrants were in a very serious condition. I brought them to safety”.

Her moral imperative is very clear: disobedience in the face of what is inhuman as a personal and social “virtue” with the intent of “doing good”. In other words, humanizing the species.

How many inhuman orders against the crew of the Sea Watch 3 were there in this action? In how many acts of civil and individual disobedience were Carola, her crew and the migrants forced to incur? How many intellectual, epistemic and moral ruptures were all of them forced to face, just to say “no!” and “enough!” to the authorities? Here we have the challenges that all of us have to overcome before we can achieve a real construction of the knowledge –individual and social— necessary for justice, peace and nonviolent resistance.

 It has been interesting to behold, too, the international campaign by all sorts of actors, including the German government, to put pressure on Italian Prime Minister Mateo Salvini –leader of the Liga Norte Party, of the extreme non-religious right—stating innumerable valid reasons and stacking praise on Carola’s humanitarian action, which ultimately secured her release. It seems quite clear, then, that Rackete’s civil disobedience action was not only individual, but part of a long, collective humanitarian culture of defiance to the legal character and legitimacy of authorities who carry out inhuman actions. Without this enlightenment, our species would still be, culturally, stuck in the Stone Age. Furthermore, it is also clear in this case that the decision-making process also involved her crew, her organization, and the migrants.

In addition to these international political actions – sittings, media and social network campaigns, etc. a boat belonging to a Spanish NGO which carries out similar rescue missions on the seas –Proactiva Open Arms—put into port in Strasbourg, near the parliamentary seat of the European Union, to denounce all actions that criminalize migrants, and to declare that they were “putting out to sea again to rescue men, women and children who needed it”.

 The unjust and inhuman authority had attempted to stop the “spiral of civil disobedience” which it foresaw. It was countered by a nonviolent weapon, an exhibition of “political judo”, in which the punishment demanded by Salvini for Carola was reverted against him, affecting his international moral legitimacy, causing him high political costs for which he was obliged to give way. We observe, once again, that the first nonviolent weapon or confrontation –the first battle, as Foucault would call it—is joined around a moral challenge.

 It was a campaign in which nonviolent actions escalated, demonstrating the “permanent firmness” needed to proportionately oppose actions of state violence like those described. It was a struggle which offered a clear example –applicable in considerable measure in Mexico—of the power of nonviolent actions when they are well articulated, when they are backed by moral and material determination in cases of noncooperation and civil disobedience, and when part of the moral reserve (in this case, for example, the political class, governments, intellectuals, artists, the Pope…) “interposes its body” in direct, frontal and open support of a legitimate and just action.

Gandhi, Mandela, Martin Luther King, César Chávez, the Zapatista movement, many ethnic, African and peasant peoples… Christ himself, were always very clear about their struggles, always privileging moral law over judicial law, legitimacy over legalism. Gandhi – who made distinctions between civil and individual, direct and indirect disobedience—proclaimed, as the cornerstones for the construction of personal and mass morality, that:  “Civil disobedience is the civil violation of immoral and oppressive laws… We obey the law according to our conscience, not through fear of punishment. Civil disobedience is an inalienable right of each citizen. To waive this right means waiving the human condition”.

Meagan Rapinoe protests the U.S. national anthem.

Non-Cooperation against Trump

“I wouldn’t go to the fucking White House” wrote Megan Rapinoe when faced with the possibility of an invitation from President Trump to the U.S. soccer team which was competing (and later won) the World Cup in France. The now world champion – who was topped by the individual awards of the Gold Balla –  had already expressed openly, when she didn’t sing the National Anthem nor place her hand on her heart, that she rejected Trump. This is an action of non-cooperation with authority, in the understanding that, if someone goes to greet that individual, he/she is directly or indirectly signalling approval of him in his other actions, and is giving him greater “moral strength” to continue with his inhuman deeds.

Her action, like that of Carola, is not simply acts of individual rebellion but are part of a collective culture which decides to publicly and openly oppose orders from authorities responsible for inhuman acts. Similar to Rapinoe’s case – whose example was followed by other members of her team—we have beheld in recent years a series of significant public expressions of non-cooperation towards Trump on the part of outstanding U.S. athletes, which kicked-off in August 2016 when Afro-American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem as an act of protest against the murder of the Afro-American population at the hands of white policemen:

 “I am not going to stand to show pride of a flag of a country which oppresses black and coloured people”.

Rapinoe also declared: “Being gay and American, I know what it means to look at the flag knowing that it does not protect all your liberties”.

 Due Disobedience to any Inhuman Order

This idea reflects much of our deepest conception of the type of knowledge we must build at intellectual, epistemic and moral levels, to allow us to advance in the construction of peace based on nonviolence or other forms of struggle, in an effort to humanize our species. It was coined, after long decades of struggle, reflection and social research, by eminent Argentine sociologist Juan Carlos (Lito) Marín as a product of his collective and individual social research on the social construction of an “anticipated obedience to the exercise of a punishment when an authority demands it”.

As sociologist Myriam Fracchia correctly notes: “To disobey an inhuman order, that is, an order that exerts harm on another or on oneself, is a moral weapon, and the greatest challenge posed by nonviolent action” (J.C.Marin. Conocimiento y desobediencia a toda orden inhumana {Knowledge and Disobedience to any Inhuman Order} Prologue by Myriam Fracchia, Cuernavaca, UAEM, 2014: 11).

In the Final Declaration of the XXII Congress of the Latin American Association of Sociology (ALAS) carried out in Concepción, Chile, in October 1999, this principle was taken up again: “We unanimously express that, in the ethical practice of our profession, social scientists cannot limit themselves to formulating a diagnosis of their societies without knowing and facing the multiple dimensions in which the legal monopoly of violence is undertaken in an inhuman and arbitrary manner in our continent. Thus, we posit the urgency of collaborating in the construction of a moral judgment that would enable breaking with the forms of uncritical obedience to authority, making observable and promoting the disobedience of life against any inhuman order”.

 This theoretical and practical construction requires the complexity of many dimensions: the first is to render “observable” all inhuman or unjust actions, and cause these actions to generate in our personal and social identities a “dignified anger” (Zapatista movement), a “capacity for indignation” (Hessel) or, an awareness of the condition that Hannah Arendt described as “…the clearest sign of dehumanization is not anger or violence, but the evident absence of both“.

But… Indignation at what? Towards inhuman orders, which means increasing in each one of us the knowledge necessary to pull apart this type of order which the social establishment issues to us totally “normalized”.

How can we face these orders that dehumanize us and dehumanize the person who issues them? Another fundamental dimension is to become aware, as Stanley Milgram used to say, that “disobedience is the last instrument by means of which we can end a tension. It is an act that is anything but easy…” Therefore, it is not a matter of voluntarism, improvisation, or idealism without any “reality principle”, but must be built and put into practice as a public action, taking into account the accumulated historical and personal knowledge of the subjects involved. Many of us have insisted –in other forums—for a long time, in different ways and theoretical fields, about the urgent need for social struggle for the construction of peace with justice in Mexico; about the urgency of encouraging this type of education and nonviolent civil resistance actions; on the level of non-cooperation and civil disobedience, in terms of the indispensable proportion that must be kept with the level of actions of war that we endure. This is fundamental if we really want to stop this war in some measure.

In present day Mexican social struggles, there are some exemplary groups who follow this line, starting with the relatives of victims of the war and of the “genocidal action” in Iguala (state of Guerrero) against 43 students; these groups have decided to organize and lead their own search actions in the field, in a form of autonomous non-cooperation; the teachers affiliated to the CNTE autonomous trade union, in refusing to be evaluated as a form of non-cooperation, and in forms of civil disobedience –blockading highways and schools—against the imposition of governmental educational and labour reforms; many villages and neighbourhoods resorting to forms of territorial resistance; and, of course, the Zapatista movement which has spent the last 25 years building its autonomy “without asking permission” (Commander David at Oventic in August 2003). But, in the face of the intensity of the war we face, we must interpose more “reflexive bodies” (moral weapons, according to Marin), starting with our own.[]

Pietro Ameglio .is a member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative Roundtable on the Power of Nonviolence.  Pietro co-founded SERPAJ in Mexico and for more than  25 years has facilitated peace education and promoted nonviolent direct action strategies in Mexico and Latin America, including del Movimiento por la Paz y Dignidad in 2011. Here is a video link to Pietro talking about the importance of nonviolence:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FVU4Dfldr8?

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