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This is a background article. See Psychological aspects of civil disobedience
Civil disobedience encompasses the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government or of an occupying power without resorting to physical violence. It could be said that it is compassion in the form of respectful disagreement. Civil disobedience has been used in nonviolent resistance movements in India (Gandhi's social welfare campaigns and campaigns to speed up independence from the British Empire), in South Africa in the fight against apartheid, and in the American Civil Rights Movement. The American author Henry David Thoreau pioneered the modern theory behind this practice in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience (Wikisource Text), originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government". The driving idea behind the essay was that of self-reliance, and how one is in morally good standing as long as one can "get off another man's back"; so one doesn't have to physically fight the government, but one must not support it or have it support one (if one is against it). This essay has had a wide influence on many later practitioners of civil disobedience. In the essay, Thoreau explained his reasons for having refused to pay taxes as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican-American War.
Theories and techniques of civil disobedience[edit | edit source]
In seeking an active form of civil disobedience, one may choose to deliberately break certain laws, such as by forming a peaceful blockade or occupying a facility illegally. Protesters practice this non-violent form of civil disorder with the expectation that they will be arrested, or even attacked or beaten by the authorities. Protesters often undergo training in advance on how to react to arrest or to attack, so that they will do so in a manner that quietly or limply resists without threatening the authorities.
For example, Mahatma Gandhi outlined the following rules:
- A civil resister (or satyagrahi) will harbour no anger.
- He will suffer the anger of the opponent.
- In so doing he will put up with assaults from the opponent, never retaliate; but he will not submit, out of fear of punishment or the like, to any order given in anger.
- When any person in authority seeks to arrest a civil resister, he will voluntarily submit to the arrest, and he will not resist the attachment or removal of his own property, if any, when it is sought to be confiscated by authorities.
- If a civil resister has any property in his possession as a trustee, he will refuse to surrender it, even though in defending it he might lose his life. He will, however, never retaliate.
- Retaliation includes swearing and cursing.
- Therefore a civil resister will never insult his opponent, and therefore also not take part in many of the newly coined cries which are contrary to the spirit of ahimsa.
- A civil resister will not salute the Union Jack, nor will he insult it or officials, English or Indian.
- In the course of the struggle if anyone insults an official or commits an assault upon him, a civil resister will protect such official or officials from the insult or attack even at the risk of his life.
Examples of civil disobedience[edit | edit source]
Use in independence movements[edit | edit source]
Civil disobedience has served as a major tactic of nationalist movements in former colonies in Africa and Asia prior to their gaining independence. Most notably Mahatma Gandhi developed civil disobedience as an anti-colonialist tool. Gandhi said "Civil disobedience is the inherent right of a citizen to be civil, implies discipline, thought, care, attention and sacrifice". Gandhi learned of Civil Disobedience from Thoreau's classic essay, which caused Gandhi to adopt a non-violent approach.
South Africa[edit | edit source]
Both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Steve Biko advocated civil disobedience. The result can be seen in such notable events as the 1989 Purple Rain Revolt, and the Cape Town Peace March which defied apartheid.
Civil disobedience in the United States[edit | edit source]
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s also adopted civil disobedience techniques, and antiwar activists both during and after the Vietnam War have done likewise. Since the 1970s, pro-life or anti-abortion groups have practiced civil disobedience against the U.S. government over the issue of legalized abortion. From the 1970s onward, various groups and organizations such as the Puerto Rican Independence Party, have successfully performed civil disobedience campaigns to stop military war games staged in areas close to civilian populations living in the islands of Culebra and Vieques, Puerto Rico. See, for example, the Navy-Vieques protests.
Civil disobedience and religion[edit | edit source]
Many who practice civil disobedience do so out of religious faith, and clergy often participate in or lead actions of civil disobedience. A notable example is Philip Berrigan, a Roman Catholic priest who was arrested dozens of times in acts of civil disobedience in antiwar protests. Also, groups like Soulforce, who favor non-discrimination and equal rights for gays and lesbians, have engaged in acts of civil disobedience to change church positions and public policy.
Civil disobedience inflicted on the basis of religion is often controversial. For example, protesting against Catholic policy in Northern Ireland on St. Patrick's Day may be viewed by Irish Catholics as defamatory.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Henry David Thoreau
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Rosa Parks, "mother of the civil rights movement"
- Abalone Alliance and Clamshell Alliance, anti-nuclear power groups
- Christian anarchism
- Conscientious objection
- Direct action
- Draft resistance
- Holocaust rescuers
- Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, French town
- Hunt sabotage
- Nonviolent resistance
- Sousveillance, passive campaign against surveillance
- Tax resistance
- Tree sitting
- Trident Ploughshares, anti-nuclear weapons group
[edit | edit source]
- Pensions for Peace ~ ACT for the Earth
- Civil Disobedience, by Peter Suber. From Philosophy of Law: An Encyclopedia, edited by Christopher Berry Gray, Garland Pub. Co., 1999, vol. I, pp. 110-113.
- On Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau
- The Theory, Practice, and Influence of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, by Lawrence Rosenwald. From William Cain, ed.,The Oxford Historical Companion to Thoreau
- Annotated version of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience
- Manifesto against conscription and the military system, with an updated list of all signatories from 1993 to 2005
- ReclaimingQuarterly.org features photo-coverage of contemporary civil disobedience actions
- DirectAction.org offers online organizing resources for civil disobedience
- Henry Thoreau and 'Civil Disobedience' by Wendy McElroy
-  a project of the Traprock Peace Center
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