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”.

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Peter Maurin: It’s John Calvin’s Fault

From our friends at Radical Discipleship, another one of Peter Maurin’s “easy essays.”

Peter Maurin, co-founder of Catholic Worker Movement

1. When John Calvin
legalized money-lending at interest,
he made the bank account
the standard of values.

2. When the bank account
became the standard of values,
people ceased to produce for use
and began to produce for profits.

3. When people began to produce for profits
they became
wealth-producing maniacs.

4. When people became wealth-producing maniacs
they produced too much wealth.

5. When people found out
that they had produced too much wealth
they went on an orgy
of wealth-destruction
and destroyed
ten million lives besides.

–Peter Maurin, Easy Essays

‘Blessed Are They Who Doubt’

Rachel Held Evans (1982-2019) WOMAN OF VALOR

This benediction below was offered by Nadia Bolz-Weber at the funeral liturgy for Rachel Held Evans on Saturday, 1 June, 2019. Thank you to all who were present in body in Chattanooga. Many many more were present in spirit.–Rose

Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude—God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.

Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story.

Rachel Grace Held Evans + REQUIEM EUCHARIST
Saturday, June 1st, 2019

Read Rachel’s obituary in The New York Times



Pastor Nancy Wright

I met with Nancy Wright in 2018 and was so impressed by the serious and dedicated way she approached congregational watershed discipleship practices. These two new watershed discipleship manuals are the result of her hands-on work in her watershed in Vermont.

Water holds a special place in Christian imagination and sacramental expression. We know from science of the essential nature of water to life. Our relationship with water is both spiritual and physiological and therefore demands a level of care that mirrors a sacredness for life.

We live in a watershed moment for the planet and for religious congregations. The threatening planetary water crisis demands a strong response. Congregations who engage in water-focused activities, education, and worship respond faithfully to the need to care for Earth and its waters, and they become engaged community leaders. They promote awareness and actions to care for local watersheds and thus play a part in ameliorating worldwide water justice issues. All religions value and promote awareness of water. Congregation members deepen in their faith by becoming leaders in watershed care.

Vermont churches are leading the way on congregational watershed discipleship models with the release of two manuals—one tailored for Christian congregations and the other for inter-religious communities. In 2018, Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (VTIPL) joined with local organizations to create a model for watershed stewardship, based on the experience of Ascension Lutheran Church in South Burlington, Vermont. The Reverend Dr. Nancy Wright, pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, and Richard Butz, a member of the church, are co-authors of the manuals.

 These are very hand-on tools for pastors who are ready to take positive action in the midst of climate crisis. The manuals provide direction on: How to grow leadership in your congregation while becoming watershed stewards; spiritual basis for water awareness; how to create waterside worship events; how to learn while having fun on the water; step-by-step instructions to become water quality monitors; and how to take positive political action.

These inspiring and practical 40-page manuals are available at www.vow4climate/store. By connecting your congregation with the water that flows in, under, and above your local landscape—your watershed—you can become part of the solution to achieve clean water for humanity and healthier ecosystems.

Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann on Elders


(an excerpt from her “Editor’s Note” in the May 1999 issue of The Witness magazine, organized around the theme “Aging: Learning to be an Elder.”) Check out Radical Discipleship blog.

by Jeannie Wylie-Kellermann

Elders usually must let go of their expectations to be power brokers, but they are also often positioned in a way that allows them greater freedom to act politically. Recently my partner Bill and I were at an Ash Wednesday vigil at the local manufacturer of cruise missile engines. Except for a few college students, we were probably the youngest people there–which isn’t saying much since we are in our 40s. On one level, that gave us an opportunity to beat ourselves up for our demographics–Why is the peace movement so white, so middle class and now so elderly? But in thinking about it, where would we prefer that elders be? What better task, could they adopt than to witness against fire power that can carry nuclear payload, but now is used in first-strike attacks against countries like Iraq or the former Yugoslavia? The conviction of these older ones is a gift to us. (I remember during a civil disobedience campaign against this same manufacturer in the early 1980s hearing a senior citizen say to a young mother who was agonizing about whether to do the action, “You take care of your babies. I’ll do this in your name and, before long, you can do this in the name of another mother.”)

I find myself increasingly willing to listen. I hope that the elders in my life will be willing to speak and that my generation (You remember us? We’re the ones who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”) will step up to the need when our turn comes. I guess we’ll have to believe that we’ve learned something and trust that it can be communicated. Of course, no one has ever complained that the baby boomers were reluctant to speak their minds or under-confident in their opinions. We’ll manage.

Some mysterious tension lies in the balance between the humility that elders learn as they relinquish power in the workplace and, perhaps, succumb to physical challenges or illnesses, and the breadth of perspective they gain as elders. They can teach us that some things won’t be changed, that some things deserve to be protested even if they are unlikely to change, that life is short and that younger people generally take it too seriously, chasing their tails when they could be giving thanks. Perhaps our elders can help us learn to relax, to take delight, to notice creation as well as to step up to challenges as we see fit and feel called. Perhaps they will remind us that the One who set this whole thing, often quite messy, in motion is a loving God.–Radical Discipleship

Nansemond Nation in Virginia

2016 Nansemond Nation powwow in southern Virginia

My June spirituality column for Sojourners reflects on my money practices. One practice I’m working to incorporate into my life is paying Native organizations an “entrance fee” when I enter their sovereign territory. This is part of what community economics leader Chuck Matthei called my “social mortgage” (or reparations) to offset my unearned economic privilege. I do this because I’m a Christian.

When I traveled from D.C. to Norfolk, Va, a few weeks ago to celebrate Rev. Dr. Yvonne V. Delk’s birthday and new anointing to ministry, I did a little research on the Indigenous community there: the Nansemond Indian Nation. I made a modest $25 donation. It took about 3 minutes.

I got a note back: “Thank you so much for visiting Norfolk and for remembering us. Your support is greatly appreciated and a wonderful reminder that there are visitors who care about our ancestors and tradition. We wish you and your family blessings and hope that you will visit us again soon!”

This practice provides me with a chance to learn a little bit more about the people whose homeland I’m entering:

Nansemond, are the indigenous people of the Nansemond River, a 20-mile long tributary of the James River in Virginia. Our tribe was part of the Tsenacomoco (or Powhatan paramount chiefdom) which was a coalition of approximately 30 Algonquian Indian tribes distributed throughout the northern, southern, and western lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Our people lived in settlements on both sides of the Nansemond River where we fished (with the name “Nansemond” meaning “fishing point”), harvested oysters, hunted, and farmed in fertile soil. …

The nation recently received federal recognition through the “Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017,” signed into law by President Donald Trump in January 2018, The bill granted federal recognition to six Indian tribes in Virginia, including the Nansemonds. This allows the tribe to have legal standing with the U.S. government and access to educational scholarships, health care services, and other benefits. This federal recognition took generations of pressure, conviction, and organizing from tribal members.