What happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object? In the case of the planned “Open Carry March,” organized by libertarian activists to carry loaded firearms through the streets of Washington this summer, the force might just end up being gently guided into handcuffs. The District of Columbia, though no longer a gun-free zone since the Supreme Court struck down the city’s ban, still has amongst the most restrictive gun regulations in the country, flatly prohibiting the display of firearms outside of private residences — much less in an organized parade.
Still, with the backdrop of this year’s gun debate, a group of libertarian activists led by war veteran and radio host Adam Kokesh, have chosen the Fourth of July as a time to "put the government on notice." The group of protesters — numbering almost 3,000 at this point — will march across Memorial Bridge, continue past the Capitol, and march past the Supreme Court and the White House. Well, that’s the plan anyway.
Though the police department in Washington tends to respect political speech, as soon as Kokesh’s parade crosses Memorial Bridge, they will be publicly flouting more than traffic regulations and park hours — and that’s their point. Both Kokesh and D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier say they want to work together "to ensure a peaceful airing of grievances," but the chief remains adamant: if a law is broken, there will be consequences. Kokesh, dispelling fears that the march will result in violence, is equally resolved: he will “submit to arrest without resisting.”
That is the point, after all. Though many commentators are attacking Kokesh for everything from being impractical to having poor taste, they are overlooking the fact that this proposed march of thousands isn’t even meant to happen. Perhaps that is because Kokesh is doing something that some Americans no longer understand and others don’t have the patience for: good old fashioned civil disobedience. Of course, the past four years have been historic in terms of protests and demonstrations across the globe, with the Occupy movement, Tea Party, class riots in France and England, and the Arab Spring.
However, these protests are not quite what Thoreau or MLK had in mind. What the right does is more what’s called "legal political protest": carefully planned, quasi-respectful demonstrations that are really good about requesting all of their permits, and everyone is home in time for dinner. The left, on the other hand, driven perhaps by a deeper dissatisfaction with the current system, has been more antagonistic towards police and more unconventional in finding ways of communicating their anger, from "occupying" public parks for months on end or loudly interrupting congressional testimonies in pink shirts. When these protesters are detained or arrested for their "speech," they are hauled away kicking and screaming, because any rule of law that restricts their “rights” is ipso facto illegitimate. They don’t want to go to jail, they want to keep "speaking" for as long as it takes the rest of us to listen. Getting arrested is so far from the point of their demonstrations that it’s become one of the things they protest against; just consider the Free Bradley Manning campaigns.
Enter Adam Kokesh. You may disagree with his libertarian politics — I, for one, do — but when he hands off his rifle and quietly submits to arrest this summer, few people will find him selfish or unresolved. He will not be making a coercive point, backed by the force of his masses or the rancor of their voice, but a moral one, the kind that has been made by many before him who have submitted to the rule of law while conceding its flaws. The police won’t be halting his "unstoppable force" more than they’ll be giving it a ramp. Come summer, don’t be surprised if it works.