We love the romantic story about the 100 colonial revolutionaries who snuck aboard ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped 90,000 pounds of British tea into the sea (tea worth nearly $1million in today’s currency). “No taxes without representation!” their bold action declared.
Their meaning was clear: “Injustice must be actively resisted!”
Many people today probably don’t know that there was a second Boston tea party and other similar acts of resistance in numerous other harbors in Maryland, New York and South Carolina. The protest against unjust taxation imposed by an over reaching government was popular and widespread.
I’ve been pondering the tradition of civil disobedience these ancestors birthed along with this infant nation so many years ago. Even though their own cultural blinders kept them from seeing other injustices that allowed inequality to be enshrined into our founding documents, still their tea party precedent established a long proud tradition of active resistance that has helped grow this nation toward greater justice.
Therefore, besides celebrating those who released the tea into Boston Harbor, I also celebrate the Abolitionists who rescued many Black people from their legally sanctioned slavery. At much personal risk, they willingly disobeyed the laws that allowed some humans to be the unprotected private property of other humans.
I celebrate the Suffragists who pushed back against their disenfranchisement—sometimes with courageous and controversial acts of civil disobedience—as they fought for justice and their right to vote.
I celebrate the protesters who sat at lunch counters and at the front of the bus. Who marched and stood and kneeled without official permission. Civil Rights heroes whose civil disobedience triggered violent “law and order” retaliation as well as angry mob vengeance, winked at by the so-called keepers of the law.
I think our forebears at the Boston Tea Party may be surprised to see what has developed from their bold example, but I believe they would agree with us: “Injustice must be actively resisted!”
Now here we are, nearly 250 years later, still protesting unjust laws and policies in this “land of the free and home of the brave.” Too many of our fellow citizens continue to experience deadly policing practices, inequitable economic systems, and discriminatory traditions within our institutions of education and healthcare.
Many of these structures that are in place across our nation are entirely legal. But “legal” is not a synonym to “right”. Too many of our laws and policies are immoral, unethical and unjust. THIS is why we protest.
It’s interesting to re-read the history of the tea-dumpers and to recognize the mixed reactions that came from their fellow revolutionaries. Samuel Adams and John Hancock helped organize the first Boston Harbor protest and were completely supportive of this illegal act. On the other hand, George Washington believed that private property should never be violated and called the Bostonian rebels “mad.”
(For the word “mad,” we might substitute words like “rioters” and “looters” and see the ongoing dilemma that civil disobedience always creates within a society. Current efforts to conflate civil disobedience with “anarchy” is not new and it is still not valid. Modern day critics who dismiss peaceful protesters as “rioters” dishonor the Boston tea partiers and reveal how poorly they understand American history.)
To anyone who says they celebrate the tea in Boston Harbor, I say they should also appreciate the acts of civil disobedience that resist the injustices of our own time and place.
When protesters push back against racial injustice with graffiti or firecrackers; when protesters break curfew and block bridges; when protesters march and stand and kneel without official sanction, then we should celebrate the long proud tradition of active resistance that has helped grow this nation toward a greater, more inclusive justice.
I applaud those who continue the courageous work of justice-seeking handed down to us from our celebrated, law-breaking forebears because I believe, along with them: “Injustice must always be actively resisted!”