Why He Got Arrested: Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen, Walmart, and Justice in the City


Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen, center, being taken to the LAPD bus following his arrest in front of the LA Chinatown Walmart Neighborhood Market on November 7, 2013. Photo Credit: Zachary Conron


CLUE-LA Board Member Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen reflected on his decision to face arrest in support of striking Walmart workers before his civil disobedience on November 7th. Following his night at Parker Center, Rabbi Dr. Cohen wrote on his experience again:

“My decision to risk arrest was a decision to stand at the nexus of two traditions of civil disobedience. One stretches back to the Talmud Sage Rabbi Akiva’s decision to teach Torah in public in opposition to the decree of the Roman Empire. He was jailed and ultimately killed for this action. Rabbi Akiva, when challenged about the danger in opposing the Roman regime, articulated a basic principle of civil disobedience. The person who disobeys an immoral law forces the oppressive institution to make a public choice about whether or not they will really stand behind the immoral law with further immoral action. This is the same theory that animated Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil disobedience in the south during the sixties—the second, American tradition of civil disobedience.

Rabbi Dr. Cohen is the latest in a long line of faith leaders who’ve chosen to play David against the greatest Goliath of our time. His deep roots in both the American tradition of “liberty and justice for all” and the ancient Jewish understanding of God’s will for justice for all God’s children have brought him to committing this powerful act of moral witness. His scholarship has allowed him to bless us with his reflections on the process.

“As people of faith, as clergy, we walk with low wage workers in the knowledge that God revealed Godself at Sinai as the God of liberation, the God who demands that we distinguish between slave labor and wage labor. Though the chains at Walmart are not immediately as apparent as at the sweatshops in China where Walmart manufactures a lot of its products, nor as apparent as in situations of human trafficking, the chains are similarly oppressive. The inability to feed one’s family, to pay for shelter, or take pride in one’s work, or be treated with dignity, all serve to destroy a person’s self image—the image of God in which every person was created.

As we chanted while sitting on Cesar Chavez Blvd. (yes, the irony is rich): “This stops now!””

Read Rabbi Dr. Cohen’s full post here. Contact Nina Fernando at nfernando@cluela.org for more opportunities to challenge’s low-price, low-quality treatment of workers and communities.

Nov. 6th Altar

An altar constructed for the 11/6/13 Paramount Walmart strike preceding the 11/7 civil disobedience in Chinatown.

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