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Does Civil Disobedience Work?


Civil Disobedience Work
MLK in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - Photo by History in HD from Unsplash

Civil disobedience is the act of willingly and publicly disobeying a law or policy that an individual believes to be unjust. It is a form of political protest that aims to bring about change by challenging the authorities that enforce the laws in question. Civil disobedience has a long history and has been practiced by people of various races, religions, and nationalities in different parts of the world.


Table of Contents:

Is Civil Disobedience in Democracy Effective?

Civil disobedience can be an effective way to bring about change for a variety of reasons. Some of the main reasons why civil disobedience may work include the following:


Drawing Attention to Pertinent Issues

Civil disobedience can be a way to bring attention to a cause and raise awareness about the issue being protested. By engaging in non-violent acts of disobedience, protesters can draw media attention and public support to their cause.


Building Momentum for Change

Civil disobedience can be a way to inspire others to take action and stand up for their beliefs. When many people engage in civil disobedience, it can create a sense of momentum and solidarity for the cause. This can help to build support and pressure for change.


Challenging the Status Quo

Civil disobedience can be a way to challenge the authorities and push them to reconsider their policies. By disobeying the laws in question, protesters can demonstrate that the rules are unjust and that they are willing to stand up for their beliefs.


Non-Violent Civil Disobedience

Non-violent civil disobedience is a form of political protest in which individuals willingly and publicly disobey a law or policy that they believe to be unjust but do so in a way that does not involve violence or harm to others.

Non-Violent Protests In History

There are many examples of civil disobedience in history, including:

  • The Salt March in 1930 where Mahatma Ghandi led a protest against the British' excessive salt tax

  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott in the US is another notable protest in which African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to ride city buses to protest segregation.

  • Freedom Rides (1961) were a series of non-violent protests against segregation in interstate travel in the United States. Activists rode buses throughout the South to challenge segregation in bus terminals, and the protests helped to bring about change and integrate interstate travel.


Mahatma Gandhi's Struggle for Equality

Mahatma Gandhi led India's struggle for independence from British rule through non-violent resistance.

Mahatma Gandhi's Struggle for Equality
Mahatma Gandhi leading the Salt March - Photo from Getty Images

Gandhi believed that civil disobedience was a moral and ethical way to resist unjust laws. He encouraged people to engage in non-violent acts of disobedience, such as boycotting British goods and participating in peaceful protests that challenged unjust laws such as unfair taxes on food, land ownership or denying people the right to earn fair wages.


Martin Luther King Jr.

There are two types of laws: just and unjust...one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. - Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950s and '60s. King believed in the power of non-violent resistance to bring about change, and he used civil disobedience to challenge segregation and discrimination against African Americans.


Examples of Civil Disobedience Today

There are many examples of civil disobedience happening around the world today. Some current examples include:

Black Lives Matter Protests

Black Lives Matter Protests
(London Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest) Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona from Unsplash

Black Lives Matter is a movement that advocates for the rights and equality of Black people. Protests and acts of civil disobedience have been a key part of this movement, including protests against systemic racial injustice, unwarranted police violence, and the alarming number of murdered unarmed Black citizens.


Indigenous lands Protests

Various indigenous nations have used protests to demand government change and bring public attention to their history of discrimination and oppression including the misuse of their lands and the ill treatment of their people. This has included protests against pipelines across their lands, denouncing the illegal actions of police in their territories, and demanding retribution for the vile abuse inflicted on children in residential schools of the past, and experienced by missing and murdered indigenous women of the present.


The Freedom Convoy

The Freedom Convoy led by Canadian truckers is a recent example of civil disobedience in North America meant to shed light on the illegality of overreaching governments and their restrictions during the pandemic. After the peaceful protest garnered much support, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, invoked the Emergency Powers Act to further punish protestors fighting for their Charter of rights and freedoms. There has been debate over the cost-benefit of the Freedom Convoy as it disrupted lives of some Ottawa citizens profoundly. Morally, the protest was firmly based on an unjust mandates and abuse of power that negatively affected millions of Canadians, especially since it had not relented with proper appeals and political pressure.

Does Civil Disobedience Lead to Violence?

Gandhi believed that if you are willing to protest for something you do so knowing there is a chance you will be retaliated upon and you must be willing to sacrifice your body for your beliefs. For example, in the 1971 Attica prison riot, inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York staged a peaceful protest to demand better living conditions, but it turned violent when state troopers retook the prison, resulting in 43 deaths.


Despite many risks, such as aggression from law enforcement and the ever-present threat of violence, many people throughout history have been willing to engage in civil disobedience to stand up for their beliefs and bring about positive change in their communities.


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