Sentencing Activists to Community Service is Hilarious

While I’ve noticed this phenomenon quite a few times before, yesterday’s sentencing of three Earth First! activists in Maine reminded me of the amazing backwards-notion that forcing activists into community service somehow amounts to a punishment.


Activists who engage in civil disobedience aren’t hoodlums running around the streets or menaces to society — these are people who risk arrest and jail time to make a difference in their communities. A judge need-not assign community service because it’s almost guaranteed that these people already do more than most.

In the case of the three women in Maine, the judge went so far as to stipulate that the community service work must be “for a nonprofit agency that does not advocate civil disobedience as one of their goals.”

Huh? So the judge thinks that these activists — who locked themselves together inside the Land Use Regulation Office building in Augusta, Maine — are merely obsessed with civil disobedience, rather than actual concerned citizens? They have to be forced to do something positive for their communities?

And anyway, what kind of organization advocates civil disobedience as a goal? Civil disobedience is never a goal, it’s merely a tactic that is used to achieve goals.

To the three activists who received community service for the act to stop development in the pristine Moosehead Lake region of Maine: try to enjoy your 60 hours outside planting trees or rehabilitating wildlife. I know it’ll be rough.

While a punishment like theirs makes me laugh, others end up with jail time, probation, or hefty fines for their acts of civil disobedience. Those punishments aren’t amusing, but with civil disobedience comes a willingness to accept the consequences.

It’d be nice, however, if those consequences were more consistent. With the recent arrest of four activists under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, it’s becoming clear that even activists who engage in only legal forms of protest can be targeted and labeled as “terrorists.” And that’s not funny at all.

Photo Credit: alexindigo on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

10 thoughts on “Sentencing Activists to Community Service is Hilarious”

  1. I have to wonder if the judge might not be exercising his sense of humor. They’re not allowed to *admit* to having one, but many of them just hide it. If the judge approves of the nominal perpetrators’ actions, but is not allowed by the system to say so, this would be a lovely way to perpetrate justice even against the supposed will of the System.

  2. It seems to me that sentencing activists to community service makes complete sense. Clearly, these people did something that law enforcement saw as civil disobedience and they were seen as guilty. By sentencing them to community service, the judge is reinforcing their need to be involved but showing them a more constructive outlet then simply chaining oneself to a building. Having them do community service in a “civil obedient” way is merely asking them to continue the hard work, just be more aware of how the work is taking place. I think this is one of the few cases where positive reinforcement in the judicial system is not only possible, but it works! If the judge was sentencing them to jail time in lieu of community service, then I would be concerned.

  3. Community service sentences are a good thing…but you are correct in saying that activists are probably the last people that need to be reminded (or forced) to do that kind of work.

    Judges probably just don’t want to look ineffective by letting activists off completely. A community service sentence makes the judge look like they did something good. It’s a win win. The Judge looks like they are maintaining order and the activist get off with doing something they probably would do regardless.

  4. The “comments” like this one on the web are severely censored! We, the people thought we would have a free and safe forum on the web, world wide, for truth – telling, and peer response, but most sites will not publish anything not along their particular “Party” lines! I can understand limiting liabilities, I can understand banning coarse language, but for pete’s sake, if an Anarchist has something to say here, let him say it, and get responses from peers, don’t wait until his ideas are out on the street, unjudged, uncritiqued and raw against the publics cheeks! We must allow this last open, free world wide opportunity for ideas to work it’s way to perhaps enlightened perspectives, yet unformulated by other human endeavor Give Man a chance, he is a sick but self-healing animal in most cases, and operates well by “pack-rule”. Let peace happen by recognizing violence in all its ugliness, and dealing with it in words on the net, not deeds on the streets.

  5. Sidney Mitchell

    I would like to know who the judge was who restricted community service to only non-profits that do not advocate civil disobedience. I think he needs to take a continuing education review course on the US Constitution, which stipulates the right and duty of all citizens to practice civil disobedience when the government is corrupted by private power…..Or have I missed something?

  6. i’m refering to the free speech element of a democracy, not the acts of civil disobedience. and how as you say in the end of the article, “even activists who engage in only legal forms of protest can be targeted and labeled as “terrorists.” aswell as “distribute flyers, picket outside of homes, and chalk slogans on sidewalks.” these so called legal forms of protest are according to my estimation becomming illegal along the same lines as civil disobedience. and so with that goes democracy, and you have nothing but a police state.

  7. Alex Felsinger

    Not really sure what you mean, but I do think it’s possible to have a democracy with laws. Civil disobedience wouldn’t be disobedient if there weren’t laws to break.

    That said, I’m not so sure we have a democracy — but for a whole list of other reasons than this.

  8. Alex Felsinger


    Civil disobedience has never been a “right.” While it is non-violent, it is still illegal. That’s always been an important aspect to its effectiveness.

    But yes, the case of the AETA 4 truly is frightening. They did nothing but distribute flyers, picket outside of homes, and chalk slogans on sidewalks.


  9. that’s scary stuff when you lose your right to act non violently to something you oppose. that’s the backwards notion.

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