How civil disobedience contributes to the formation of the identity of responsible citizens

I'm sitting at my window right now, a book in my hands. The morning sun slowly casts moving shadows from the trellis on the table next to me. A spider web between the metal struts sways in a light breeze.

The tiles caught in it cast a dancing play of light onto my lap.

A notebook with a pencil and an eraser in the form of a small red book are ready to hand on the table.

The chapter I just read, “Is there such a thing as a disabled identity – reflections on the paradox of the functionality of power” is making my mind race. As I think about how peaceful civil resistance contributes to the formation of the identity of responsible citizens, my eyes fall on the little red book next to my pencil. I start to laugh. As I remember yesterday's vegan tea sausage spread, I can no longer contain myself. I briefly burst out laughing. The numerous adventures of a rebellious marsupial flood my mind.

About the Desuboreli Nation, the memories end with the following scene: “History will absolve me!” cries the kangaroo. Marc-Uwe asks, puzzled: “What was that supposed to mean now?”

The kangaroo's succinct answer: "I always wanted to say that."

This scene has stuck with me for years. Because the meaning has changed so fundamentally for me. About 10 years ago, this scene was just funny to me. I laughed heartily. A sigh of relief and a ray of hope in a dark time in my life. With the first contacts with peaceful ZU, the meaning changed. I now felt recognition and appreciation for the courageous people who even risked legal consequences for climate protests.

I felt pride, confirmation and legitimacy with my first own ZU actions.

I was now sure that history would absolve us (including me).

But that wasn't the end yet. Last year the meaning changed drastically again with the Last Generation.

When the first yellow letters came, confirmation turned to hope. Hope that should drive away fear.

The sentence underwent its last major change after my first (pre)prison experience. All other meanings were just a glimmer. Ultimately the sentence lost all meaning. I didn't care how my actions might be viewed in the future.

Because in view of the threatening climate catastrophe, my priority is that there is still a future in which there is room for reflection. In the natural disaster, hunger, streams of fleeing people, ... suffering does not determine everyday life.

I am in custody in the Cottbus-Dissenchen prison because I could no longer stand idly by and watch the destructive, fossil fuel course of the German federal government. For sticking myself in a peaceful roadblock.

This was not just seen as resistance, but as resistance to law enforcement officers, which is why I am now in prison.

In view of the impending climate collapse, I see no question that peaceful civil resistance and protest, including in the form of peaceful civil disobedience, is legitimate and necessary.

Due to the ever-shrinking time window, in my opinion ZU is even urgently needed. Historical examples of the effectiveness of peaceful civil disobedience abound. Hannah Arendt's words and her boomerang thesis are already in the pen in my hand.

The little white rose bush in front of my window, with the steel struts, adds the rest.

But I would like to try a different approach and show how peaceful ZU contributes to the formation of the identity of responsible citizens.

What is identity anyway?

We prove our identity with an ID card or passport. Name, height, weight, eye color, ... and possibly fingerprints.

An official stamp is enough to identify us. But don't we identify ourselves with characteristics? Maybe our job or possessions? With different groups, ideas, values, goals and ideals that we share with other people?

How does this fit with the uniqueness of who we are as a person? That's exactly why! Because our ego identity arises in interaction with other people. By constantly (re-)identifying similarities and differences. This creates a unique mixture. Our self. A very individual identity.

Precisely because identity is only formed through contact with others, it is not rigid. In the interplay of our relationships it changes and parts are constantly being re-formed. The isolated I-Thou relationships form a network with many branches. The society we live in.

In the democratic system, we have entrusted the power to make decisions about and in this society to politicians. Power in the sense of having the authority to determine something or others. In order to avoid abuse of power, there is, among other things, the German Basic Law.

The exercise of power creates submission. Completely independent of legitimacy. Submission always gives rise to the possibility of defense, refusal or resistance.

Because where there is power, said Foucault in 1991, “… there is resistance. And yet, or precisely because of this, resistance is never beyond power.”

Submission and resistance also form an interplay that shapes identity. This means all interactions. So not just state and society, but also all interpersonal relationships.

Submission requires constant reorientation and adjustment.

On the other hand, resisting has a strengthening effect on the ego. “Making your point” or “being sure of yourself” are good illustrations.

Resistance is a means of identity formation because it involves overcoming oppression.

The development of identity is therefore only possible if power relationships are changeable and open. Open to refusal and resistance. If this is not the case, this results in disempowerment. Those affected most likely feel helpless, defenseless and unprotected. Because their self-determination can no longer be maintained.

Submission is not generally negative. It can be associated with a claim to security and reliability. Then there will never be anything to bear.

Already here, the Constitutional Court ruling suggests a transition to ZU. The judgment makes it clear that the German federal government cannot present sufficient measures to meet the 1,5 degree target and thus secure the livelihoods of current and future generations. To date there has been no satisfactory improvement.

This still represents a breach of the Basic Law according to Art 20a.

When it comes to identity formation, things go even further. As described, resistance is part of the power structure.

In relation to the climate movement, resistance includes all forms of action. From petitions, letters to representatives, demonstrations, ... to civil disobedience.

Dignity to identity and power. When no resistance is possible and self-determination is lost, power becomes violence. Violence is physical or psychological and targets a person's vulnerability. This vulnerability is a prerequisite for human interaction.

Just like empathy, the I-It relationship becomes an I-Thou relationship. An interpersonal relationship. A real relationship between people. Recognizing oneself in the other and recognizing the other person at the same time (cf. Holz 2003) is the core of human identity.

Understanding, respect and compassion are therefore the basic building blocks of identity. Feeling with compassion must be clearly distinguished from suffering with compassion.

It is an overwhelming sense of compassion that unites the climate movement. Acceptance and understanding that people are already suffering from the consequences of the man-made climate catastrophe. The powerlessness and the bewilderment of ruling politicians. To share the fears that immense suffering awaits us and future generations.

Also with regard to the mass demonstrations of FF, I think identity formation can be well summarized in a song.

I think it’s called “Children’s Hands.”
Has such small eyes.
You can never connect.
Because they can't see anything else.

Has such small ears.
You should never shout.
Because they don't understand anything else.

Has such a small backbone.
You must never bend.
Because otherwise it will break.

Just clear people,
would be a nice goal

people without backbones,
“We’ve already had too much.”

Article 1 of the Basic Law protects human dignity. Human dignity is inviolable. Not of the Germans living now, but of people. Of all people.

Dignity is so important (at least according to the law) that it is the very first article in the German Basic Law.

Dignity is, unfortunately, in my opinion, a word that is rarely used anymore. This also seems to mean that attention to dignity is lost.

What does the term dignity mean?

There are tons of treatises, interpretations and analyzes about this one word. I find the results from a seminar on dignity, stubbornness and identity tangible and understandable. Research is difficult at the moment because I'm currently in prison in Cottbus for a climate campaign.

In the seminar, students should collect terms that describe dignity or degradation.

Indignity was with
– Humiliation
– Devaluation
– Ignorance
– Mental and physical coercion
– Exposure
– Shaming
– Abuse
– Exploitation of power
– Use of force
– External determination

Having dignity, on the other hand, meant:
- To be taken seriously
- Free expression
– Acceptance of (physical) limits
– Respect in dealings
– Acceptance of being different
– Appreciation of one’s own work/activity
– to experience joy
– I am right the way I am
– Positive feedback

This list is not representative, but it gives an impression.

So what's missing now is a few rousing words about civil disobedience, right? That politicians have “overslept” necessary measures for too long in order to respond appropriately to the climate catastrophe. That we urgently need the necessary measures.

That we need civil disobedience to demand life-protecting measures.

Uh, nope, think about it. Inform you. Get angry! Take responsibility. Get active.

For me, civil disobedience is the most promising way to demand the urgently needed measures from our government in order to meet the 1,5 degree target.

For you too?

Love and Rage

Kevin Hecht
Aug 23 from the Cottbus prison

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