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Community Service

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Peace. Freedom. Survival.

Edward John Hasbrouck
13 Valentine Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts
U.S. of America 02139
5 August 1983

Judge David S. Nelson
United States District Court
John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse
Boston, MA 02109

Dear Judge Nelson:

I am writing to you in response to a letter to me from Esther W. Salmon, United States Probation Officer, 22 July 1983: “Please forward your proposal for community service as soon as possible as Judge Nelson has indicated he would like to be advised of intentions in this regard. Judge Nelson stated he will not approve a program of community service that involves anti-draft or political activities of any kind, so please keep this in mind.”

I intend, as I promised before you sentenced me, to continue to work for the survival of our human community in the face of nuclear omnicide. This work is, I am afraid, unlikely to succeed. If it does not succeed, nothing else will matter. There is little that either any individual can do, but the desperate need I feel to act as expressed itself in many kinds of work.

My proposed program is the work that I am already doing. In my judgement, this satisfies the condition of your judgement that, “the defendant is to perform one thousand hours of public service in a program approved of by the Probation Department and this Court.”

I realize that you may have wanted a more precise program. It is obvious that survival will require revolutionary change, including disarmament (which would in itself be revolutionary). But I can predict that neither the process with the consequences of such a revolution, should it occur. Nor can I predict what contribution I may be able to make. I find useful ideas in The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Le Guin), Strategy for a Living Revolution (George Lakey), and On Personal Power (Carl Rogers), among other places. But I know no algorithm for anarchy. Politics by the book — any book, including whatever I might write — is not ready-to-wear but ill-tailored to the convolutions of the body politic. Political programming and evidently functions to channel life into the programmer’s catechism.

I will not catechize, nor will I apologize for, my life. I feel no obligation to justify my work to you (although I would be happy to talk to you about what I am doing). It is not the people who must justify themselves and their right to live their lives to the government. It is the government which must justify itself to the people — on their terms — or else lose its right to exist. This is the meaning of democracy and the Declaration of Independence.

I am disappointed that you have declined to talk with me about these issues. (I am also angry at the system that allows you to base your decisions on reports from the probation office to which I am not privy, in violation of my rights to confront my accusers into a public trial.) I respect you, and I think we have much to learn from each other. I again offer to meet with you at your convenience. If you are willing, I and my housemates would be pleased to have you as our guest for dinner.

I also realize that my program involves anti-draft and political activities of many kinds. In a democracy, the polity is the whole public. As I see it, in accordance with the feminist lesson that the personal is political, all public services political. (One’s definition of “public service” is, for that matter, itself an expression of one’s political values.) I can’t imagine that your definition of “public service” excludes all politics, especially given the common equation of “public servant” with “politician”.

I do not know what you mean by “political”, and I do not know why (or, given the First Amendment, on what authority) you have excluded political activities from the permissible forms of public service. I do know that, like the general conditions of probation (which serve primarily, in my case, to suppress those political activities involving out-of-state travel or civil disobedience and to exert a chilling effect on my involvement in even those legal activities which might risk arrest), the requirement that I do 1000 hours of a political work (in addition to earning a living) would serve primarily to reduce the amount of time that I could devote political work.

Esther Salmon has told me that public service work must be “voluntary”, by which she means not “uncoerced” but “unpaid”. This is Newspeak: an order to do voluntary work is a contradiction in terms. My present work is unpaid, but any other work (no matter how worthwhile) would still, pay or no, be forced labor. I am no more willing to do forced labor as a probationer than as a registered conscientious objector or as a drafted soldier.

I am complying with the conditions of your judgement: I am “performing” public service, and if I am permitted I will complete 1000 hours of such work within the 2 years of my probation. I ask not your agreement with what I am doing (though I would like that) but merely your tolerance. I may be wrong; so may you. That is not inflict our wrongs upon each other.

Probation itself has been a real and significant punishment. Compliance with its terms has been a real and significant compromise. It has been a compromise of my politics, of my beliefs, and of the way I live my life. I have compromise more than I thought I could conscience. I am willing, despite these compromises, to continue on probation

I hope that you will accept and consider this proposal in the spirit of cooperation in which it is offered.

Yours in Fear,

With Hope,

For Revolution,

Edward John Hasbrouck

[Published in Resistance News #14, March 1984. After Judge Nelson received this letter, he imposed the six-month prison sentence that he had originally suspended, despite the quite brave testimony at my probation violation hearing by my probation officer, Esther W. Salmon, that she believed that my peace work satisfied the terms of Judge Nelson’s order.]

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