I believe that civil disobedience is justified as a method of trying to change the law. I think that civil disobedience is an expression of one’s viewpoints. If someone is willing to break a law for what they believe in, more power to them! Civil disobedience is defined as, the refusal to obey the demands or commands of a government or occupying power, without resorting to violence or active measures of opposition (Webster’s Dictionary). This refusal usually takes the form of passive resistance. Its usual purpose is to force concessions from the government or occupying power. Civil disobedience has been a major tactic and philosophy of nationalist movements in Africa and India, in the civil rights movement of U.S. blacks, and of labor and anti-war movements in many countries. People practicing civil disobedience break a law because they consider it unjust and hope to call attention to it. In his essay, Civil Disobedience, American author Henry David Thoreau set forth the basic tenets of civil disobedience for the first time. The independence of India in the 1930’s was largely a result of the nonviolent resistance by Mohandas Gandhi to the British colonial laws. In the United States, the nonmilitant efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., helped bring about civil rights legislation. There are numerous examples that illustrate how civil disobedience is justified.
In late 1955 Rosa Parks, a leading member of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. I don’t blame Parks at all for what she did. The African American people had to take a stand on some issue some where in life. Martin Luther King was soon selected as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association(MIA), the organization that directed a bus boycott prompted by Park’s jailing. The Montgomery bus boycott lasted for more than a year. By late 1956 King was a national figure. These types of civil disobedience are clearly justifiable in my eyes. Everyone should have equal opportunities in life. In 1957 King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC), an organization of black churches and ministers that aimed to challenge racial segregation. King and other leaders encouraged the use of nonviolent marches, demonstrations, and boycotts to protest discrimination. They did this because that was there way of getting the message across. They always had reason to back up their claims or arguments. I could go on and on with examples of civil disobedience displayed by Martin Luther King but there are other conditions from which to discuss.
The man who most clearly formulated the concept of civil disobedience for the modern world was Mohandas Gandhi. He was an Indian nationalist leader, who established his country’s freedom through a nonviolent revolution and whose teachings inspired nonviolent movements. In 1893 Gandhi went to serve as a legal adviser in South Africa. He was appalled at the denial of civil liberties and political rights to Indian immigrants to South Africa. He threw himself into the struggle for elementary rights for Indians. Gandhi remained in South Africa for 20 years, suffering imprisonment many times. In 1896 Gandhi began to teach a policy of passive resistance and noncooperation with the South African authorities. Gandhi considered the terms passive resistance and civil disobedience inadequate for his purposes and coined another term, Satyaqraha (Sanskrit, truth and firmness)(Internet). In 1914 the government of South Africa made important concessions to Gandhi’s demands. His work in South Africa was complete so he returned to India. This only being part of Gandhi’s work, it is still amazing. I respect the courage and strength he had, to stand up for what he believed in until he received what he was fighting for. His actions were clearly justified. He was fighting for the civil rights of people of his own kind. I admire that man greatly. He is a role model for people to come. Everyone could learn something from his position on violence. The violence was nonexistent.
Another great man who justified civil disobedience was American writer, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. In 1846 he performed an act of civil disobedience by choosing to go to jail rather than to support the Mexican War (1846-1848) by paying his poll tax. He clarified his position in perhaps his most famous essay, Resistance to Civil Government (also known by the title Civil Disobedience) written in 1849. Thoreau asserted that the United States government lacked moral authority because it condoned slavery, and he saw the Mexican War (1846-1848) as an attempt to extend slavery to the western United States. Thoreau believed that publicly disobeying the laws of an unjust government would bring other people to oppose that government’s actions. Resistance to Civil Government inspired leaders of 20th-century resistance movements, such as Indian nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi and American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. That shows what an important role Thoreau played if he inspired two of the greatest leaders ever.
In all of these circumstances the persons involved have felt the need for civil disobedience. They feel like the given law was unjust. Therefore they are not going to obey it. A perfect example of this would be if the government banned a certain book. They stopped the circulation of it and said nobody was allowed to read it. If one wanted to disobey the law and perform civil disobedience, that person could get a group together or go alone and set out front of a government building and read that banned book. Voice your opinion on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Civil disobedience is justified here because it is not right to ban a piece of literature no matter how unethical it is. These laws limit human freedom and hinder spontaneity.
I think there are always times when disobeying a law is morally justified. They are sometimes unfair and repressive; common sense, social custom, and religion already provide enough guidance; and morality can never be legislated (Kessler 154). Thoreau argued that any given law is not as high or not above what you believe in or what your conscious tells you is right. We all have a moral duty to obey our consciences (Kessler 154). I believe it is very clear how I stand on the subject of civil disobedience. After researching this topic and formulating my own opinions I have learned a great deal about my morals and myself. It simply shocks me when I think of the accomplishments of people like King, Gandhi, and Thoreau.