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“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.” –Henry David Thoreau, renowned scholar and American writer (Thoreau par. 2). Every citizen of a country has the sole right to dissent from all forms of government, or to disagree and protest any part or decision of the government. However, this governing body has in many ways created propaganda and portrayed a negative view of anybody with any disagreement with the government that regulates them. Government has become a controlling, restricting, and hindering obstruction to life and from which we have every right to dissent, whether as citizens or as individualists.
The first person to be served with steadfast devotion is only a man’s own self. The kingdom in which a person resides is not the kingdom they must choose to honor and obey. Perhaps the greatest example of dissent in world history is the quiet, pacifist dissent of Jesus Christ of Nazareth from the Romans by his teachings of religion. He once said that “My kingdom is not of this world,” and he showed the government that he truly believed this by doing what he believed was his purpose as a man, not a subject (“Kingdom” par. 1). It is the kingdom of self-satisfaction that someone should be choosing to follow diligently. Neither man nor government has the control of a being’s happiness and free will. Making a life happy and creating a purpose for it is the first priority of living, not following the rules and restrictions that the controlling power has placed upon its citizens. Becoming merely a subject and not a citizen, is the same as being a prisoner and not a free man. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that being a living being satisfying only their own nature comes first, above all else (Maslow par. 6).
The hierarchy of needs is an excellent example of what a man should live his life to be, choosing his own path, disregarding what has been imposed upon him. The needs of man come before the needs of his country. Idealistically man should live life to its full extent and nothing less is the goal of any true man. Creator of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow once said that “What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization” (Maslow par. 4). A man must be what he can fully be, meaning he shall not remain merely a subject of whatever tyrannous reign governs him. This must be done regardless of its affect on others. It is also a person’s obligation to not impede upon another’s right to self-actualization. He shall live for himself and only himself, without bothering another. A man must protest the obstacles which impede his need of self-actualization and true bliss. If someone simply cannot become what they wish or need to be they must remove the hindrance and become which they deserve to exist as. What a man can be, is a free man and this is what he must be. What then, is the point of living if someone cannot live to be free? Dissent is the truest way of achieving their needs and breaking the resistance thereof.
To respect and exercise the given right of speech and protest and defend what a person believes in is the greatest form of dissent, but also the most hindered. In most countries, even in democracies such as America, dissent and protest is often criticized and looked down upon; all citizens should just “go with the flow”. Ralph Young, a writer for USA Today Magazine writes that “We need to recognize that dissent is the American way; that protest is patriotic” (par. 3). Without dissent or protest, America as well as many other countries would never have been created, or at least not to the grandeur of today. How can a government founded upon such principles dare to try and impede on those very rights? Such acts are sheer hypocrisy. Having, without exercising the rights given to a person, makes them no more a citizen than a subject to be ruled. Without Americans publicly displaying their opinions during the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union never would have begun to observe and embrace the ideals of democracy. Dissention is a model for the world to follow and without it, no country could prevail in the uniting of its citizens and the people it wishes to govern.
A citizen’s first and foremost duty and obligation is to make the country in which he is a citizen, a grander one, and to do so is to protest all that which is wrong by exercising their First Amendment rights. The greatest right given by the United States is a right a man already has; the right to protest. Mikhail A. Bakunin, the great Russian revolutionary believed that “The right to unite freely and to separate freely is the first and most important of all political rights” (“Dissent” par. 3). Citizens uniting with others who feel the same way towards a cause is an effective society. Without which, the social structure would deteriorate into millions of individuals without a community. To separate freely is to establish one’s self as an individual and an example for others to follow. Every act in history began with a single mind creating the idea and demonstrating it for others. Dissent and protest is like a chemical reaction. Without a catalyst, there will be no change. Without a lone protester, there will be no change.
Often times, a country creates unfair and controversial laws that are yet to be amended by the affected individuals due to fear of persecution. An unfair rule will remain an unfair rule until that rule is dissented from and changed by the people. Once again, Thoreau explains it best by believing that “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” (par. 4). Civil disobedience is the most effective way of communicating a disagreement. One of the world’s most iconic figures, Mahatma Ghandi shaped an entire country via civil disobedience and disrespect towards inequality and the laws practicing it. “It is no part of a citizen’s duty to pay blind obedience to the laws imposed upon him,” Ghandi had said (par. 2). A magazine writer, Jonathan Gallagher, frequently writes on dissent and in an article about civil disobedience, he wrote that “…every citizen silently but none the less certainly sustains the government of the day in ways of which he has no knowledge. Every citizen therefore renders himself responsible for every act of his government” (par. 7). When the choice is made to disobey, the choice is made to publicly announce an opinion, without which, the law will never change. If a citizen does not make an effort to change the thing he is opposed to, then he is only aiding it by allowing it to remain untarnished. Essentially, a man’s daily action will either support or refute the government.
Civil disobedience may be the most effective way of communicating a disagreement, but it can be the most difficult. Today, the government has not only created a negative perspective of those who choose to dissent but has also nearly made it impossible. Gallagher writes again about how “the right to dissent from a majority consensus may be a laudable philosophical ideal, but as a practical process in society it is a very different and difficult manner” (par. 3). A democracy was designed to be ruled by the people, but when that “democratic” government has performed actions restricting its subjects from the freedom to make progressive changes it no longer is a democracy but a tyrannical rule. Writer Thomas Hayden once illustrated how the government attempts to disarm citizens of their weapons of dissent. “’Just saying no’ takes on more meaning when the consequences are more severe” (par. 4). In this society, often times “…dissent can be regarded as treason” and when a governing body believes a citizen is creating a disturbance in the “natural” order of things, the proposed vagrant is jailed or otherwise restricted (Fulbright par. 24). In July of 1846, Henry David Thoreau took a trip to the local cobbler to mend his shoes. Upon leaving the shop, a tax collector stopped him and asked for Thoreau to pay his poll tax (similar to today’s income tax). Thoreau refused, outraged by where all the money was going. During this time, the U.S. was spending much of the taxpayer’s dollars on the controversial Mexican-American War as well as funding the slave trade. When Thoreau refused, he was immediately jailed, and as he spent his solitary night in prison he wrote one of the greatest political tracts by an American: Civil Disobedience. Henry had no intention of ever paying the tax, and until he did, he would remain incarcerated. It was eventually paid by an aunt, much to Thoreau’s dismay (“Thoreau” par. 5-9). No matter what the reasoning is, the government will forcibly stop somebody from continuing any act that impedes their desires.
Again, another example is shown in 1999. During the World Trade Organizations (WTO) in Seattle about 40,000 protesters flooded the streets of downtown Seattle blocking traffic in a movement called the anti-globalization movement. The entire Seattle police force was called and after only a few hours, the officers began to open fire with rubber bullets, tossing tear gas and stun grenades into crowds of peaceful protesters, while beating them and spraying pepper spray in an attempt to merely “clear the streets”. To maximize the effectiveness of the tear gas canisters, the mayor issued a one day ban on the purchase of gas masks. Over 600 protesters were arrested over the next few days. Once the chaos was over, the mayor also initiated a curfew and a 50 block “No-Protest Zone” around the building in which the WTO meetings were taking place (“World” par. 11-14). The government openly restricted rights outlined in its constitution in an attempt to quell peaceful protests of controversial issues. Those who choose to dissent, are often stripped of possessions, taxed or fined, causing them to fall into destitution from which it is difficult to become a focal point in making radical changes to said government.
The only way a person is able to make a positive change is through non-violence. Violent means will only end in further violence and is merely a way for a person to try to distract himself from a simple direct objection. In the article “The Case for Lawlessness” written by an anonymous source, the writer clarifies that “A ruckus…is a self-indulgent distraction” (par. 8). Only when someone has made a blatant objection or direct complaint to the source of the proposed unfair body, is when they have made headway in their struggle. Without peaceful means, there is no respect. Without respect, there can be no change for the better. Causing chaos and discord will only distract from the original goal and hinder all progress towards the betterment of the corrupt source.
The government works towards hindering a citizen from the freedom to live a life where the only law fulfilled is the law of making themselves happy. Each person must retaliate and make their opinions known through dissent and protest. Without dissent or protest, the world would never change. The citizens will remain mere subjects with their consciences resigned to rulers keeping total control. It is a citizen’s duty to be just that. A citizen. That means exercising the rights they deserve to have and dissent from injustice in the government. The best representative of true and relevant dissent, Ghandi, sums up the entity of dissent; “Action expresses priorities” (“Ghandi” par.13).
“The Case for Lawlessness.” Sunday Herald 14 Nov. 2010: 5. ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web. 12 Nov. 2010
“Dissent Quotes/Quotations.” liberty-tree.ca. N.D. Web. 11 Nov. 2010.
Fulbright, William J. “Violence is the American Character.” Britannica Annals of American History 7 July 2009: 5-6. ProQuest Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 12 Nov. 2010
Gallagher, Jonathan. “Kingdom Rights: Religious Liberty and Civil Disobedience.” Liberty: Magazine of Religious Freedom Jan/Feb. 2001: 8-11. ProQuest Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 16 Nov. 2010
“Maslow Quotations.” Liberty-tree.ca. N.D. Web. 11 Nov. 2010
Hayden, Thomas. “Defining America.” U.S. News and World Report 5 July 2004: 37-40. ProQuest Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 16 Nov. 2010
“Henry David Thoreau.” fff.org. N.D. Web. 7 Nov. 2010.
“World Trade Organization of 1999” globalissues.org. N.D. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
Young, Ralph. “Dissent Is As American As Apple Pie.” USA Today July 2004: n.p. ProQuest Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 18 Nov. 2010