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Civil Disobedience is the action of opposing the laws set by governing bodies on the grounds of moral or political principle. It is disobeying the rules and regulations present in the society so that concerned authorities can look into their dissenting point of view and finally make amends. Civil disobedience usually adopts non-violent means to influence the mass on an opposing perspective, but it involves illegal street demonstrations and peaceful occupation of premises. The conscience plays a pivotal role in civil disobedience. David Thoreau’s treatise (Thoreau) states that when there is a conflict between one’s consciences and that of abiding the law, one should always follow one’s conscience. It is the underlying thought in civil disobedience that rather than waiting for legal change, one should be instrumental in demanding the change. The U.S. Bill of Rights asserts that authority of the government is attained from the people and; therefore, they have the right or rather it is their duty to alter and abolish laws they see as destructive.
Thesis Statement of this paper is: every member of society has the duty to act against the laws governing the state if they see that they conflict with their moral principles.
United States of America itself was formed by the audacious act of civil disobedience by a courageous few now immortalized by the euphemism, “Boston Tea party”. “Boston Tea party” comprised of a handful of Bostonians who in their defiance towards the British government in December of 1773, threw more than 46 tons of tea overboard into Boston Harbor (Carp). This classic act of Civil Disobedience started the American War of independence that finally established them as a separate but sovereign state. Today America is an example of a country run by the people and its government is elected democratically. The laws passed by the government are adhered to strictly by means of its enforcement upon people. However, there had been many incidents when people have taken their protests to the streets opposing, for example, segregation laws that existed for Blacks in the South. The civil rights movement led by stalwarts like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated peaceful means against the thoughtlessness and cruelty of segregation laws (Levy). Children of African Americans could not go to the same school as the Whites and mingle around in public for fear of getting arrested or even killed. The movement erupted when in 1955, Rosa Parks, a black woman refused to follow regulation about seating on a bus. These regulations were part of the segregation laws in the South, and her act of civil disobedience provided the much needed spark to the civil rights movement. The movement finally successfully removed segregation from the South. Therefore, when morally it can be obvious that the laws are not human, people should resort to civil disobedience to exercise their right to express what they think is wrong in society.
Woman’s suffrage movement is another example of Civil Disobedience across the world. In America, many women take their right to vote for granted, but it was the pioneering act of women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton that in 1920 amendments to the voting bill was made. The daring women who felt that they had an undeniable right to participate in the democratic process of the country had their wishes finally fulfilled by Congress (Ruth & Sinclair). Even in Britain the woman suffrage movement was championed by a few who took to civil disobedience to voice their opinion on voting rights. Britain being a much more conservative country than America was extremely reluctant to give in; however, after the First World War in which women participated whole heartedly, the government was forced to accept women’s contribution to the country’s political efforts to sovereignty and granted women with the right to vote.
Anti-war demonstrations have been the highlight of acts of civil disobedience in America. More recently, during the Vietnam War, people have vehemently expressed their disenchantment over the government’s policies in the politically motivated war. People challenged the establishment by refusing to enlist, occupying draft centers and not allowing military recruiters in the high school and college campuses. The most glaring case was of Cassius Clay who changed his religion to Islam in order to avoid his mandatory term in the military academy. The Vietnam War was inhuman in its conception as it was just opposing the communist regime of another country. America had no right to infuse its beliefs on another country and finally lost the war not because it lacked prowess, but underestimated the will power of the natives. There were thousands of casualties and war veterans suffering from post war trauma in America even after the war was long over. The civil disobedience movement here was unsuccessful in changing the policy of the American government, but the War itself will go down in history as a failure of the US government.
Apartheid was a term for racial segregation in South Africa, which curtailed the black inhabitants and subjected them to white supremacy. In a conscientious world, this would be unthinkable because each person has a right to maintain his self esteem in whichever way possible. The Black inhabitants deserved equal rights as those of their white counterparts, and they chose to fight this through Civil Disobedience as they felt it was their moral obligation to do so. Nelson Mandela is well known for being the forerunner in leading the Anti-Apartheid Movement for which he was imprisoned and kept under house arrest for 27 long years (Lapping). This act of rebellion sparked his fellow countrymen to oppose Apartheid through civil disobedience acts which finally culminated in the abolition of Apartheid in the country. Democratically elected government was soon established in South Africa, which gave fully fledged equal rights to all citizens of the country irrespective of their color.
Civil Disobedience marked the freedom struggle even in India which attained its freedom from British rule in 1947. A well known non-violent movement called Quit India movement, which was led by the erstwhile Mahatma Gandhi, successfully demonstrated to the British that their ruling was unconstitutional since it was against the will of the country’s population. The people protested through meetings, writings etc. However, the British government took to violent means to end the protests resulting in violence across India. The British rulers finally capitulated and gave India much sought independence. Therefore, Civil Disobedience is a practice which India resorted to under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi on humanitarian grounds.
The much burning topic today is that of the climatic change and global warming happening across the world. This change in the environment has evolved due to the industries and factories violations of the regulations in terms of keeping the environment free of pollutants. This has resulted in the crisis that we are facing today which means that many species will become extinct, and the weather will drastically change across the world. Protestors have taken to the streets and are holding the governments of super powers responsible for this debacle. The governments in most countries are puppets in the hands of rich industrialists who will not stop before anything, when it comes to their profits. This is dangerously affecting the common life of people across the world especially due to the melting of polar ice caps and disappearance of the rain forests. People across the world have to take lessons from the past and participate in Civil Disobedience in their respective countries, in order to oppose laws that are harmful to the environment. The people of America have realized that the safety of their future generations is in their hands, and if they do not act now it will be too late to save the world which is already on the brink of destruction.
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