My friend Aryeh Cohen was arrested in Los Angeles protesting sub-minimal wages paid to employees at Wallmart. I wasn’t necessarily going to write about this until I saw the photograph posted by Aryeh at Facebook. I liked the picture a lot, the diminutive image of my friend dressed in white surrounded by the power of state authority dressed in black. Condensed into an image, the story speaks to the emergence of a politically committed Jewish praxis in post-industrial America, based on sterling social justice amidst urban blight. This is what a contemporary American Judaism can look like, this is what Jews should do in contemporary America. Stand up not “for” working people and “for” the working poor as charity, but “with” them as justice. It’s the right place to be. “Why I got arrested.” Aryeh wrote a long piece about the protest, the work conditions at Wallmark, and the tradition motivating the particular form of Aryeh’s protest. I’m posting a little bit below, which you can read in full over at “Justice in the City.”
“My decision to risk arrest was a decision to stand at the nexus of two traditions of civil disobedience. One stretches back to the Talmud Sage Rabbi Akiva’s decision to teach Torah in public in opposition to the decree of the Roman Empire. He was jailed and ultimately killed for this action. Rabbi Akiva, when challenged about the danger in opposing the Roman regime, articulated a basic principle of civil disobedience. The person who disobeys an immoral law forces the oppressive institution to make a public choice about whether or not they will really stand behind the immoral law with further immoral action. This is the same theory that animated Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil disobedience in the south during the sixties—the second, American tradition of civil disobedience.”
The photograph was taken by Zachary Conron, an organizer at CLUE. I think he got it just right.