Why we must protect the right to not do your job.

The “still does their job” meme. I’m not okay with it.

I get it. It’s funny, it’s an excuse to post pictures of Dana Scully and that knight from Monty Python with no arms. I am 100% in favour of more Dana Scully, everywhere, forever.

But- I hate to say this- I think that this meme is fundamentally misguided and incredibly harmful. Have we no better way to argue with Kim Davis bar telling her that she should do her job? That she should sit down, shut up, and do what we pay her to do?

Would we be saying this if Davis’s views were different?

I do think that Kim Davis needs to either do her job or step down and let someone else do it. However, I *don’t* agree that it’s always as simple as that.

Your job is not always the right thing to do. We know this. “Just following orders” is never an acceptable excuse to do something immoral. We need peaceful ways to make our points and fight for our beliefs. Sometimes, putting down our tools and refusing to perform part or all of our work is one of them.

Let me tell you a story.

You see, back in the 1980s a group of ordinary workers helped to change how our country behaved toward a profound wrong. Workers from Dunnes Stores (an Irish supermarket chain) went on strike for the right to not handle produce from apartheid South Africa. One cashier- Mary Manning- refused to check South African fruit through her till. When she was suspended, nine of her colleagues walked out with her. Their strike lasted two years and nine months. I’m the end, they won more than they could have hoped for- Ireland banned the sale of South African goods until the end of apartheid.

History is filled with people who made the world better by refusing to do their jobs. I am proud to be from the same nation as Mary Manning.

Kim Davis should do her job- there’s no doubt about that. Her reasons for refusing to do her own job are a world away from the Dunnes Stores strikers. They fought in solidarity with people who had their human rights denied. Davis fights for the privilege of denying rights to others.

But while their motives are completely different, Davis and the Dunnes Stores strikers’ tactics are remarkably similar. And they’re the same as have been used by thousands of people the world over for all kinds of purposes.

I’d love to live in a world where people only fought for good causes. It would be a far simpler place. We don’t live in that world.

The fact is: we can’t object to the other side’s methods, when they are the very same ones that we use ourselves. I can’t celebrate the Dunnes workers tactics while condemning Kim Davis’.

If we want our objection to Davis to have teeth- and if we don’t want those teeth to bite us in the ass the next time we strike or boycott- we have to focus it where it belongs. On the odiousness of anyone denying others their civil rights.

We need to dismantle Davis’s claims of persecution brick by brick. We must make it crystal clear that our rights apply to our selves, and that LGBTQ peoples’ right to equal treatment under the law does not impact on her equal right to see our relationships as immoral if she chooses.

Because let’s be clear: we know that we’re going to win this one, at least in this part of the world. The Davises of the world are losing, because their ideology crumbles before our lives and our stories. Our most powerful tool is our lives, and in sharing them we wield it well. Kim Davis will lose.

But she must not lose her right to protest along with her fight. We have to find a way to ensure that all couples in Kentucky can access marriage, regardless of gender. But if we can’t do that without respecting the right to put down your tools in protest? We’ll have lost something far further-reaching than this. And in years to come, when the world’s next Mary Manning walks away from her desk or her till, we’ll regret what we did.

Oh, and by the way?

Picture of Freddie Mercury with the text: Freddie was a bisexual man of color who knew what made the rockin' world go 'round.
Just sayin’. Credit: http://minmaxyrlife.tumblr.com/post/129257944274/i-made-dis-queen-freddie-mercury-bi-erasure

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Why we must protect the right to not do your job.

16 thoughts on “Why we must protect the right to not do your job.

  1. 1

    I agree with your view that the right to protest applies to people I disagree with just as it applies to me. That said, I think there’s a fundamental difference between Mary Manning’s actions and Kim Davis’s actions. The difference is that Mary Manning knew she was risking her job. The ones who walked out with her voluntarily sacrificed their pay and benefits for their principles. Even if one doesn’t like the principles, that action merits respect. Kim Davis can’t be fired or suspended for refusing to do her job. To “fire” her would require the Kentucky state legislature to convene and impeach her. Meanwhile, she gets the statutory pay and benefits of the job. Had she resigned rather than obey the present law I would still disagree with her views, but I would respect the way she stood up for them. As it is, she’s not making any real sacrifice while causing problems for others. I see no moral high ground for her to stand on.

    1. 1.1

      That is one hell of a good point.

      It’s entirely possible that how I’m looking at this is coloured by the fact that here, her job would be carried out by the civil service. Which is about as far from an elected position as it’s possible to be.

      1. Part of the problem is that she was ALSO trying to make sure that NOBODY ELSE in her clerk’s office could issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
        It’s ALL about her using other people as a sacrifice to her God. It’s her religious bigotry all. the. way. down. She’s using her sincerely held beliefs to DENY OTHER PEOPLE *their* rights under the law.
        I see a fundamental difference between Kim Davis’s actions and a principled, job-jeapordizing stand that fights on behalf of the less privileged.

        So, in these cases…context and privilege and which way the power gradient runs are all important.

        ALSO important:
        Who is actually bearing the cost of the principled stand?
        In this case, Kim Davis is trying to make OTHER PEOPLE bear the “cost” of her beliefs.

        That’s when I think it’s clearly OK for a government worker (or anyone else) to not do their job based on their principles: when THEY are going to be bearing the cost and consequences.
        If that those principles or beliefs are pushing that cost onto ME or onto someone else less privileged?
        NOT. ON. EVER.
        (see also: pharmacists who don’t want to fill legal prescriptions for oral contraceptives or the “morning after” pill).

  2. 2

    Yes, the biggest complaint about the Kim Davis is that she’s basically an arm of the government. When you’re trying to get a private company to do something different, boycotts and walkouts and strikes are totally appropriate ways to deal with the problem, whether it’s our side or the other side that does them. But when you’re dealing with a government agency in a democracy, the individual cogs shouldn’t get as much say in how the machine works, because the machine belongs to all of us, and we all get a say in how it runs.

    1. 2.1

      This is my biggest issue, too. Davis was using her position as a government employee to force her religious bigotry onto others, including those employed by her department. She didn’t take a stand for her personal reprehensible beliefs, she also, as an agent of government, used her religious beliefs as a cudgel against not only private citizens but also fellow government agents. She kept other people from doing their jobs, jobs many of them wanted to do. She barred her fellow government agents from acting on their consciences.

      That’s not what working as a member of government, and therefore being an agent “for the people,” is FOR. No, her position was not created to serve members of government who want regular citizens to abide by their specific religious edicts. It was created for the government to serve the people.

    2. 2.2

      Yes, I get where you’re coming from. We do things similarly here- if you work in the civil service, you’re generally expected to be apolitical. If you’re above a certain level, you can’t get involved in politics at all. Below that level, you generally need to get permission to, say, join a political party. Or have a blog like this connected to your own name.

      Which is a good reason why I’ve looked at really interesting civil service job advertisements in the past, and moved on. I’m way too mouthy 🙂

      I do think that even then, things can get blurry and complicated.

      I mean, the part where she was barring other agents from doing their jobs? That’s just out-and-out not on. And the fact that she could do that was also pretty godawful. I don’t get why one person would even be given that power?

      Argh. I feel incredibly conflicted, though, when it comes to government workers and conscience. Because I can think of so many situations where the morally correct thing for a person working in government to do is to lay down their tools? And I think it’s so important that that be a thing that we can do.

      And on the other hand, Davis is abusing the freedom she has. She’s like the people who think that “freedom of speech” means “freedom to hurl slurs and abuse and to humiliate anyone I like for no good reason, ’cause I feel like it”. I don’t know how to deal with one, while still allowing for the other?

  3. 4

    There is another point also. When Manning walked away from her register, I’m guessing she didn’t take all the keys to all the other registers with her. While others walked out with her, they did so out of their own conscience and free will. Kim Davis not only refused to do her job, but also did everything she could to prevent her deputies from doing theirs regardless of their beliefs in the matter.

    I support the right for someone to refuse to do something they honestly believe is wrong. But not to simultaneously take the same freedom from others.

    1. 4.1

      That makes a LOT of sense.

      I guess this is where we’re coming up against differences in our systems: here, I don’t think there’s just one person who can provide marriage licences. If someone’s not there that day or wouldn’t do it? I’m pretty sure (but don’t quote me on this as I’ve never tried to get married!) that they could just pass it on to another clerk.

      I can definitely see how her preventing her deputies from doing their jobs is far, far different from a group of people going on strike.

  4. 5

    There are some pretty crucial differences. First, in the intended targets of Manning and Davis: Who was Manning out to get? The people who profited off of apartheid and her labor. Who is Davis out to get? Ordinary citizens who have done nothing wrong. Second, I doubt that Manning tried to, or even had the authority to, compel complicity from her coworkers like Davis has done.

    Lastly, given Davis’ position and motivation (ie. “God’s authority”), her tactics go against the US Constitution itself. (Not that the latter is always wrong—constitutions can have unjust laws. The point is it’s not self-defeating to have different standards for legal protests versus protests which flout the law of the land.)

    Davis’ actions aren’t a boycott or a strike. They’re a simple abuse of power.

    1. 5.1

      I agree that there are huge differences between Manning and Davis. Like I said- one of them is one of my heroes, and the other is a homophobic douchecanoe.

      And the fact that she can compel obedience from others is hypocritical in the extreme. Also, it was something I wasn’t aware of- I had gotten the idea that it was more like each county had just one clerk, who was the only one who could sign things?

      I think that fact bothers me a lot more than the Constitutional element. After all, my country’s constitution says a lot of things I have zero respect for and that I work against every single day, so I’d be a hypocrite if I used that argument!

      But yeah: the fact that she is doing this from a safe position which she isn’t willing to leave (a pointed resignation is quite the way to make your voice heard) and is forcing others to disobey the law of the land too? That’s, frankly, a load of bollocks.

      I may have to take this one back, you know.

  5. 6

    No, not doing her job is STILL a valid protest, much as I disagree with her position.

    “Just do your job” is the worst reason ever to do something. Mercenaries “just do their job” and I certainly do not look to them for heroics. She has a right to refuse her job — that her name needs to be on every marriage license is why she prevented her deputies from issuing the marriage licenses.

    Davis objects to her name being on said marriage license which would imply she approves of said marriage. I actually respect that. And “just quit” is not easy when you are a state employee who is going to need your pension and health benefits to survive for the rest of your life because right now this is the only job she has ever had and likely ever will have.

    Now here is what everyone misses:

    The governor could have called a special assembly and had her impeached, he didn’t.
    He could have done the same and changed the law which required her name, he didn’t.
    He — or the court — could have set someone else as co-Clerk of Court or some other legal loophole, they didn’t.

    There were plenty of ways around this, but her state was uninterested in making it easy because they did not want or support gay marriage.

    When she was in jail her deputies were still not putting her name on the marriage licenses. So obviously there is a way around this.

    Yes, if we stand for freedom of speech it must include speech we hate, and if I’m going to support people refusing to act against their conscious I have to support also when it disagrees with my own.

    If she was instead stopping deportation paperwork I’d be cheering her on and sending her money and glad she used her power to shut down a government office, so I must also support her in this.

  6. 7

    Darlene Pineda, you have forgotten or never knew that a crucial point of your argument is undermined by the court order. The court ruled that Kim Davis’s name being on the marriage licenses does not imply that she approves of marriage, she is merely a representative of the state and is only certifying that the legal requirements for a marriage license to be issued are met. This is a clear fact.

    Further, you’re characterisation of Davis as a ‘state employee’ and that her employment as the county clerk is the only employment she has had or will ever had is misinformed. Davis was elected to the position of county clerk for a four year term, she is paid a salary as an elected official and representative of the state’s government to perform the duties as the state requires by the person elected to the position of county clerk. Her mother was elected to that position for more than 20 years and Kim Davis was hired as a chief deputy clerk from 1991 – 2015. Her son has since been hired as a deputy clerk. Kim Davis earns, for all it’s worth, a generous living income in her position and earned a similar income as deputy clerk. To add to this, it’s clear that Davis and her family have been benefiting from this elected position through nepotism for 24 years. This is not illegal, but it illustrates that there is no hardship financially for her in regards to her employment.

    While she may rely on her pension and health benefits for retirement, it is not at all apparent that given her experience and the fact that she was employed as deputy county clerk for 24 years that she would not be able to find gainful employment had she resigned her position.

    Kim Davis has not been ordered to act against her conscience, she has been ordered to perform her duties as she was elected, namely to certify that marriage licences meet the legal requirements to be filled. Her conscience does not weigh on that matter; she is factually not endorsing a marriage by certifying that it is legal.

    1. 7.1

      You are arguing semantics that don’t matter.

      I know how long she’s been in office, and I also know the kind of poverty in that area, and that if she makes it to 30 years her retirement is impacted. She is indeed a state employee and has been all her life. Welcome to small-town USA.

      Factually her name is on the license — that fact may be interrupted by the courts as not implying approval, but my name signed on a document most certainly does. Having worked in HR and presented multiple write-ups and terminations and explaining to employees that a signature shows only receipt or acknowledgement of said paperwork and is not showing agreement with it and still having multiple refusals to sign, signatures on the back with long texts explaining they did not agree and were being forced into signed, and other such behaviors I assure you that the court ruling means nothing. It is an attempt at a work-around and it didn’t work.

      Factually sounds good when it is not your name on the document. If my position required me to factually sign off on an execution — just factually ensure all things were in order — I damn sure would refuse and facts be damned. Same with a deportation, my name will not be attached in any way to an action I find anathema.

      I know active duty military who have put off retirement or retired early so the a certain president’s signature would not be on their retirement paperwork.

      Names matter, and what we attach our names to matter. She has every right to refuse, and the state has every right to take action her. That is the American way, no?

      And again:
      The governor could have called a special assembly and had her impeached, he didn’t.
      He could have done the same and changed the law which required her name, he didn’t.
      He — or the court — could have set someone else as co-Clerk of Court or some other legal loophole, they didn’t.

      Plus she’s gone too far to back down now. Liberty consul is using her shamelessly, she is inside her own echo chamber with powerful people egging her on, and she really has no way out. If the Gov. had a brain he’d negotiate an early retirement for her and impeach her during the next session. But she’s in a corner and all she has left is saying no.

      Hell, I’m in NC and the state passed a law that magistrates — state officials — could refuse to marry gays, and in NC you can only be married by a minister or a magistrate. There are counties where every magistrate has refused. Kim Davis is just easy to pick on.

      1. Davis’ argument rests on her having invented a level of authority for herself not inherent to her position. As Thomathy says, she’s supposed to be a representative for the state, which is the actual authority that grants recognition of a marriage. Instead, she’s presenting herself as the authority that recognizes the marriage in place of the state.

        Her name on the document only shows she verified the applicants’ ducks were all in a row. It’s a self-aggrandizing fantasy on her part to confuse that with doling out personal approval. We’re not obliged to indulge her tyrannical delusion; we’re obliged to maintain the truth about the responsibilities of her position.

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