Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Civil Disobedience

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
A woman, crying, gives her friend a drug that they both know is lethal. No, it’s not an ending to a Hallmark movie, but an act of kindness. Her friend, a young boy, was dying from cancer that will kill him in a month. A month of prolonged suffering, where he’ll end up counting down the days, hoping for death, because that would be easier than the pain. What the woman was doing is known, commonly, as a mercy killing, where a person kills another because the other person wants to die, usually to escape chronic pain. In America, if you have a fatal disease, you cannot die. Suicide is illegal. Murder is illegal. How, then, would one escape the pain?

Mercy killings are also illegal, but they fall under a special category called civil disobedience. In some ways, civil disobedience is hard to understand – it is the grey areas in life, where even a law has no clear-cut outcome. Laws are made to prevent disorder, but sometimes they do more harm than good. Sometimes laws unwittingly harm the very people they are attempting to protect. Is it alright, then, for a person hurt by these laws to break them, if they believe that they are morally correct? Civil disobedience, residing in those grey areas, is not only permissible, but necessary in order to bring unrealistic or unjust laws to light.

In 1776, the Founding Fathers of America came together in Philadelphia to write The Declaration of Independence, a document prized by the United States as the moment it became truly free of mother England. Within the document is the passage, penned by Thomas Jefferson and signed by fifty-six leading individuals that read, in part, “When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Approved by two future presidents, this passage advocates disobedience against a government that had repeatedly wronged its own people. Leading up to this climax and inevitable war was a bout of civil disobedience that swept the colonies after the presence of the British in American towns. The Boston Tea Party, which culminated in some three hundred and forty barrels of tea dumped into Boston Harbor, was protesting the English stamp acts, lack of representation in Parliament, and the tax on tea. In true form of civil disobedience, no one was injured, but the point – which became the rally cry of ‘no taxation without representation -- was very effectively made.

A social worker walks into a house, where she is due for a home study requested by several teachers at the local school. Having visited the same place several times, she suspects that the accusations of abuse are founded, even if no hard evidence had ever been produced, even though the child in question shook his head no when she asked if anything, anything at all, was going on behind closed doors. This time was different, though, and finding the boy, not yet seven, she made a split-second decision and tugged the little boy’s hand, bundling him out of the house.
It’s kidnapping what that social worker did, taking a child without the parent’s permission. There are laws against kidnapping, strict penalties, but it is difficult to accuse the woman of being wrong in that instance. She knowingly broke a law, took the boy from his home, but she did it for a reason most of society would concur as being morally right. Civil disobedience.

The Civil Rights Movement utilized civil disobedience to its fullest. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. assisted with the boycotting of Alabama buses after Rosa Parks, in an act of civil disobedience, refused to give up her seat. In Greensborough, black youths sat down at a white-only counter. They didn’t fight or hurt anyone. They merely sat, which was against the law then. Civil disobedience. Anti-war movements have been a part of U.S. history since Thoreau, author of 'Civil Disobedience' went to jail for refusing to participate in the U.S. war against Mexico in 1849. More recent examples were the nationwide protests against the Gulf War and the war in Vietnam, the U.S. involvement in Nicaragua and America’s involvement in Central America. Disobedient actions have included refusal to pay for war, refusal to enlist in the military, rallying at draft centers, sit-ins, blockades, peace rallies, and refusal to allow military recruiters on high school and college campuses.

It’s 2008 and Olympics once again, this time controversially held in Beijing, China. Not only is the air of China so polluted it poisons the physically fit men and woman participating in the Games, but the treatment of the local Tibetans is causing activists around the world to take up the gauntlet for the cause. In San Francisco, three demonstrators scale the Golden Gate Bridge (illegal, and, therefore, disobedient) to unfurl a banner that reads, “One World, One Dream,” and “Free Tibet 2008.” They are arrested. In Paris, thousands object to the torch run, hanging banners from the Eifel Tower and forcing authorities to extinguish the torch three times. In the UK, dozens are arrested for disturbing the peace, among other things, when they hang a banner of protest off the Westminster Bridge – right in front of Parliament. When opening ceremonies begin, ten Tibetans in Beijing chain themselves to each other and to police barricades to protest a “settlement of nomads” policy that has disrupted their traditional way of life. They, too, are arrested for this civil disobedience.

Examples, too numerous to effectively list, are included under the broad, obscure topic of civil disobedience. The woman’s suffrage movement, the underground railroad, the anit-nuclear movement, environmental demonstrations, and many more actions from history and today show the public taking the law into their own hands. In all of these struggles, citizens have already reached the conclusion that legal means for addressing their concerns has not worked, and felt their views and opinions were ignored, usually leading the government, by its own laws, to knowingly or unknowingly harm its citizens.

In each of these individual struggles, the protesters were compelled by a deep, unifying force: their own morality, their own convictions. In each of these cases, in the cases of civil disobedience taking place today in America and elsewhere, the perpetrator’s distress was so profound it motivated them to go against the law, to sacrifice their own comfort, their own safety, to face unknown danger, to risk imprisonment. It is always the love to truth and justice, the individual morality that drives these activists to civil disobedience. A government is created to protect the natural rights of its inhabitants, and when the government does not fulfill that duty it is the citizen’s right, their duty, to bring the erroneous law to the attention of the government, and civil disobedience is the perfect way for the people of America, the people of the world, to showcase their belief in the rights of man.



Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Roman_syn said...
Jan. 16 at 3:08 pm
My teacher is making us do a Socratic seminar on this article. I really liked it. Make more like it!!
 
Scully-X said...
Aug. 27, 2010 at 9:20 am
Wow! This is a really good, well-thought out piece of writing. I had never thought of this before, and it really opened some doors for me. Good job!
 
Site Feedback