Civil Disobedience as Refusal to Obey Civil Laws

Civil disobedience is defined in the dictionary as refusal to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in governmental policy or legislation, characterized by the use of passive resistance or other non-violent means (Houghton, 2000). But civil disobedience is much more than just the outcome it brings, its also about the journey to outcome. People like Nelson Mandela have gone to prison for it, Martin Luther King preached it, Gandhi promoted it, and even Jesus used civil disobedience to stand up for what he believed in. (Source 1)Mahatma Gandhi once said that Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony (Source 2) To Gandhi, it seems happiness came to him by standing up for his beliefs, and peacefully marching against the Salt Acts. Using civil disobedience Gandhi knew that provoking a response from the British gave his cause the power to change India form a British colony to an independent country. Gandhi did not force roughly 1 million people follow his procession, he set an example for others, showing them his way to change things without violence and gave them someone to stand behind and used them as inspiration to stay standing. Gandhis journey with civil disobedience was much more than inspiring others to choose peaceful protest, he made choices that were small as an individual but massive when committed by a large population. He led by example not forcing anyone to follow him.

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Martin Luther King Jr., like Gandhi, became the face of the hope for change. King preached his hopes for equality and african american civil rights; peacefully protested along with thousands of other oppressed african americans in the southern United States. Martin Luther King used his voice to inspire the people rather than leading by example with action like Gandhi. Kings speeches inspired the african american community to choose nonviolence in order to reach the goal of equal rights. He was even imprisoned at Birmingham Jail for disobeying the laws he believed were unjust. In his letter from Birmingham he wrote to the people who opposed his beliefs, not criticizing them for their beliefs but outlining the reasons behind his. He describes his nonviolent campaign and in any campaign of nonviolence of having our basic steps: factual evidence of injustice, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action; nonviolent of course. He then explained his campaign with the steps in mind (source 3). The four steps described in Kings letter from Birmingham can be applied to all acts of civil disobedience.

For example, Gandhi identified the injustices he saw in the salt taxes imposed by the British government, he tried to negotiate with the British government, he found peace with the facts that the laws would not change without action, he then peacefully and nonviolently acted by marching to the Indian Ocean in protest to collect salt by hand rather than buy it, as well as making his own clothes (source 2). Rosa Parks saw injustice in the public transportation segregation laws, she tried to negotiate with the bus drivers and passengers, she understood that violence was not the way to change, and acted by refusing to sit in her assigned section and then boycotting the bus system altogether (source 1). In our own community, we have seen, heard of, and participated in civil disobedience. By walking out of school to protest gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting, the LGBT parade, and attending the womens rights rally, we have participated in civil disobedience and all of these examples of civil disobedience occured in our city of Boise. These examples all follow Mr. Kings steps and have all made an impact in someway.

The definition of civil disobedience in the dictionary is a very blanket and closed, when civil disobedience changes every time its used. Although it does have its continuities, civil disobedience, like a body of water, ebbs and flows with the situation. As Boise police chief William Bones wrote on his perspective on civil disobedience, there needs to be a balance between the issues protested and the amount of law violation or disturbances. So, my fellow students and young activists, civil disobedience is a proven way to bring change in our community and our world. Civil disobedience is nonviolent action to bring change, voice a shared opinion, and bring injustice to light. Civil disobedience is the choice made by a group people who see something that they believe is unjust and nonviolently take action to try and make the injustice right. It is different in every situation and has many applications, from rallies to boycotts. And in our community, city, state, and country, civil disobedience has been used in many forms to change the course of history and we will continue to do so. As the future, we need to set an example for each other and inspire as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Henry David Thoreau, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, John Locke, and Dalai Lama did for others in the past (source 1).

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Civil Disobedience as Refusal to Obey Civil Laws. (2019, May 05). Retrieved December 1, 2022 , from
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