Civil initiative

No More Deaths operates according to the principles of civil initiative, a term coined by Jim Corbett in the context of the Sanctuary Movement. Here is Corbett’s formulation.

Civil initiative is formed by this function: our responsibility for protecting the persecuted must be balanced by our accountability to the legal order.

As formed by accountability, civil initiative is non-violent, truthful, universal, dialogical, germane, volunteer-based and community-centered.

  • Nonviolence checks vigilantism.  Civil initiative neither evades nor seizes police powers.
  • Truthfulness is the foundation for accountability.  Civil initiative must be open and subject to public examination.
  • Civil initiative is universal rather than factional, protecting those whose rights are being violated regardless of the
    victim’s  ideological position or political usefulness.
  • Civil initiative is dialogical, addressing government officials as persons, not just as adversaries or functionaries.  Any genuine reconciliation of civil initiative with bureaucratic practice—the discovery of an accommodation that does not compromise human rights—is a joint achievement: civil initiative can never be based on non-negotiable demands.
  • Action that is germane to victim’s needs for protection distinguishes civil initiative from reactions that are primarily symbolic or expressive.  As a corollary, media coverage and public opinion are of secondary importance when our central concern is to do justice rather than to petition others to do it.
  • Civil initiative’s emergency exercise of governmental functions is volunteer-based.  The community must never forfeit its duty to protect the victims of human rights violations, but no new bureaucracy should be formed that would oppose the return of governmental functions to those constitutionally designated to assume responsibility.
  • Civil initiative is community-centered.  To actualize the Nuremberg mandate, our exercise of civil initiative  must be socially sustained and congregationally coherent;  it must integrate, outlast and outreach individual acts of conscience.

See also Corbett’s essay “Sanctuary, Basic Rights, and Humanity’s Fault Lines.” And this helpful primer on civil initiative by John Stephens.

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