(F4J) – a pressure group that originated in Britain to crusade
for father’s rights, especially child custody and access rights
in divorce – has just landed on American shores with the creation
of F4J-US. What happens
next may tell us as much about society’s post-9/11 attitude toward
social reform as it does about father’s rights.
do F4J and its international chapters demand? F4J essentially seeks
the removal of any anti-male bias from the family court system.
The specifics include a wide range of measures, including the court
enforcement of visitation orders and the linking of child support
payments to visitation rights.
would the repetition of well-aired demands tell us anything new
about society’s post-9/11 attitudes? Because the strategy F4J favors
hasn’t been really tested here since then.
rights advocates and their opponents have waged a public strategy
war, to be sure. But their weapons of choice have generally been
a flood of contradictory studies, re-interpreted data, personal
tales of injustice, accusations, and blasts of fury.
advocates "peaceful non-violent direct action based on the
Greenpeace model with a dash of humour thrown in for good measure."
In Britain, the group is famous for high-profile stunts that taunt
and disrupt authority. For example, last September an F4Jer dressed
as Batman scaled Buckingham
Palace. Standing for over 5-hours on a ledge next to the Palace’s
main balcony, he unfurled a huge
banner reading "Super Dads of Fathers 4 Justice."
Batman was arrested "for suspicion of causing criminal damage."
for similar but unspecified "guerrilla" acts in the United
States have been announced. It is not clear how aggressive the Stateside
actions will be.
Jabr, head of F4J-US, has been quoted in the Telegraph as
saying, "We will try to maintain the audacity of the stunts…
but if anyone tried that [the batman stunt] at the White House,
they would be shot."
the same article quotes Matt O’Connor, F4J’s founder, as declaring,
"We are planning a massive stunt in New York which will catch
everyone by surprise… It will be more spectacular than anything
we’ve done in the UK so far and if all goes well we will hopefully
be catapulted into infamy."
past action in the UK, that’s quite a statement.
May, for example, two F4Jers threw condoms
full of unidentified powder at Tony Blair, hitting the Prime
Minister as he addressed the House of Commons. The substance was
later identified as flour that had been dyed purple; the men were
with the relatively mild offence of "using threatening,
abusive or insulting words or behaviour." They were fined but
served no time in prison. In the U.S., the two might have been shot
on the spot.
just the American authorities but the American public is likely
to respond more harshly as well. It is not likely that New Yorkers
would tolerate a re-run of the
London publicity stunt by which "Spiderman" occupied a crane
that "caused" police to stop traffic flowing across the heavily-traveled
Bridge from early October 31st to November 4th. A British court
later cleared Spiderman of charges because the closing had resulted
from police decisions and not his actions. In the U.S., outraged
New Yorkers might not let a Spiderman who closed the Brooklyn Bridge
reach the court system at all.
is not that civil disobedience or non-violent resistance have deeper
roots in Britain than in North America. The United States was born
through acts of both. Throughout American history, reformers and
radicals have addressed social problems through civil disobedience
and non-violent resistance.
activists flouted the law by harboring run-aways; the most famous
of them (William Lloyd Garrison) called the Constitution’s sanction
of slavery "an agreement with hell, a covenant with death"
and urged non-violent resistance. 19th century labor advocates staged
strikes that paralyzed entire regions and industries; they burned
factory owners in effigy. Black civil rights activists sat at "whites
only" lunch counters. During Vietnam, the anti-war movement
barraged the "system" with flamboyant tactics. Perhaps the most
famous one occurred when the Yippies threw dollar bills from the
balcony of the New York Stock Exchange and effectively closed down
trading as brokers scrambled for the money.
is an open question: will civil disobedience and non-violent resistance
be allowed to shape American society as it has in the past? Or will
such strategies be forced to operate within narrower and less effective
may provide the answer.
rather, reaction by authorities may be the answer.
reaction can be gauged, in part, by an incident in January. Two
members of the British group visited NYC to help organize F4J-US
and to scout the city for possible actions. They were followed everywhere.
one member of the surveillance team, "We learned later that
he was the head of New York’s terrorism intelligence branch. He
had FBI connections and orders to make sure that there would be
no Buckingham Palace-type incidents."
the other hand, the father’s rights radicals apparently went out
for a beer with the men assigned to watch them.
wish F4J-US well; I believe its cause is just. I also wish it prudence
because I believe post-9/11 America is likely to stomp on anything
that vaguely hints of violence against an official or the disruption
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century
(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).