Editor, The Times:
I have been reading reactions to the arrests this past week at the gates of the Kinder Morgan tank farm in Burnaby.
Those arrested now include two MPs. One of those less famous arrested also happens to be my daughter.
These arrests are part of broader opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, a project to allow for the transport of much more diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands for export via tankers and refining in other countries.
Some of the lively conversation about the protests has been about whether it is appropriate to engage in direct action and civil disobedience — a peaceful, non-violent and yet clearly illegal act of protest.
In this case, it is the refusal to obey an order granted to Kinder Morgan that requires everyone to remain outside a determined zone.
Protesters have been arrested for sitting where they are not legally allowed to sit (as this has blocked access for the corporation’s activities in completing the project).
As I’ve listened to the debate and thought about how I feel about this, I’ve re-read a letter I first read as a young adult. It had a large impact on me and continues to inform me.
I was living and studying for a few years in Kentucky and was considering much of what I was seeing of the U.S. experience.
The letter was written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote it from his jail cell in Birmingham, where he was arrested and held in custody for protesting by marching, which was illegal. Others were arrested in those months for sitting where they were not legally allowed to sit.
He wrote the letter not to his opponents, but to his moderate supporters who believed he had crossed a line.
They criticized him for his arrest and for the illegal direct action of the movement.
They wanted him to slow down and stay on the legal side. King’s response to his supporters sheds light on how we might consider what is happening at the gates of Kinder Morgan.
“I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law … That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty.
“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action.
“Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
“My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension.’
“I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, non-violent tension which is necessary for growth.”