On Feb. 16, the Lewis & Clark Civil Disobedience Workshop had its second session, “Philosophy and Civil Disobedience.” The event was facilitated by Associate Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair Jay Odenbaugh, Director of the Symbolic and Quantitative Resource Center (SQRC) and Leader of Portland Tenants United (PTU) Margot Black, and Associate Professor of Philosophy Joel Martinez.
The workshop as a whole is facilitated by professors of their own volition and open to students as well as the public to participate. Approximately 40 people attended the session on Thursday.
“This is voluntary, and it’s because everybody cares about providing not just resources for each other, but mutual support,” said Martinez.
“I think the fact that professors are willing to donate their time to share their expertise about such a pertinent issue and that students are willing to listen and partake in the discussion shows that the LC community truly values learning not just as a way to effect social change, but also as an intrinsic good,” said Sally Goldman ’20.
The Ethnic Studies Department stated that this workshop is “a response to the danger our country and the world faces in the wake of Donald Trump’s unconstitutional and illegal actions as president. In order to effectively oppose Trump’s agenda, we will look back to previous movements that employed civil disobedience as well as look forward as we develop new tactics that respond to our reality.”
In effect, the facilitators aspire to address the question stirring in the liberal social sphere: How do we move forward in Trump’s America? The workshop takes place every Thursday in Miller from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. until April 27.
The session began in a lecture format with Odenbaugh and Martinez explaining the philosophical and ethical theories for thinking about civil disobedience, activism, beliefs and motivation for action. Black followed by giving concrete, local examples of direct action and civil disobedience she has worked to organize with PTU.
Martinez said at the beginning of the session, “most theorists about civil disobedience don’t think you have a general overriding duty to obey the law. Most think you have pro tanto duty; it can be overridden. The reason for this is that morality and law come apart.”
Despite the workshop’s proposed framework in which the leaders “employ a Freyrian pedagogy that seeks to empower all participants in the class, rather than a teacher-centered model that assumes the teacher has all the answers,” there was minimal group discussion during the philosophy session on Thursday due to time constraints.
“I feel like there should be more interaction. The presenters did a lot of the talking, but we should find out who’s here, why they’re here, so they can be interacting with the presenters in a way that they’re getting something out of it,” said Martinez. “It’s great that this is organized, but we’re kind of working it out as we go along.”
“I wish we had more conversation, in a sense, a lot more discussion with people who were in the room, other than myself or Joel or Margaret,” Odenbaugh said. “But I thought good issues were raised and interesting questions were articulated.”
Black presented the goals and struggles behind PTU. She provided examples of how she and the renter community have fought for their rights through direct action. PTU has organized public skits, marches and pickets, among other direct acts of civil disobedience.
According to Black, “housing is a human right. We’re fighting for housing security and dignity for everyone.” Thus, they act through “unapologetically aggressive agitations,” while setting limits to law-breaking. PTU will trespass, resist arrest, contempt court and verbally harass landlords. However, they will not engage in physical altercations or destroy property.
“It’s still the beginning of the workshop, but I feel like it went well today. I feel like what Margot talked about and what Jay and I talked about really fit together in a lot of ways – Portland Tenants United has really thought out what they’re doing, and that was our message,” said Martinez. “We need to plan out what we’re doing, not just in the sense of who’s going to do what, but why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
“I think that [the session] was insightful, and I think the balance between the philosophical grounding and why we do these things and how we justify them and what questions we should be asking about them with the concrete examples can help generate ideas and motivate action that feels meaningful,” said Black.
“In a way it’s pretty awesome, I mean I could go on and on about all the ways Lewis & Clark is starting to be a community – which we’ve always wanted to be, and we’ve had a tough time being that. And it may just be through some adversity that we’re all starting to work together in really substantive ways,” said Martinez.