Civil Disobedience is a method of protest that is widely gaining universal support and recognition because of its peaceful and pure method. It is a movement that was originated by Mohandas Moramchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi, an India icon of human rights activism.
He first moved to South African to protest the illegitimate apartheid rules and his methods of non violence have been greatly adopted in any meaningful protests all over the world. This mode of protest has been used successfully since then and it differs from ordinary protest in practice, belief and intention (Gandhi 137).
Ordinary protests are usually riddled with self-interest, violence towards people and property and sometimes in extreme cases there is blood shed and loss of lives. The intention of ordinary protests is sometimes evident through hooliganism, and can lead to destruction through arson and looting of public and private property (143). Thus, ordinary protest is for the intetrst of the organizer and has no respect to the implications of the actions on the wider society.
Gandhi explains the conditions necessary for a protest to be classified as civil disobedience and develops this idea, what he called ‘Satyagraha’ around non-violence and love for the oppressor and belief in universal truth (Gods law) and morality as the basis for the foundation of human rights (137). He also proposed that ‘Satyagraha ‘respects legitimate and moral law. As such, civil disobedience is protest within the wider law.
It does not object to the entire system of laws but particular statute that are deemed immoral, unjust and illegitimate, and whose resolution would lead to benefit not only of the resister but to the entire society. Civil disobedience is thus the resisting immoral and unjust law in a civil manner (140). This paper thus, endeavors to highlight the conditions necessary for an action of protest to be termed as civil disobedience and its effectiveness.
According to the originator of this idea, civil disobedience exists within certain parameters and as such, any form of protest does not qualify to be termed as ‘Satyagraha.’ The principle idea behind civil disobedience is the notion of non-violence protests. Gandhi claims that “‘Satyagraha’ is like a banyan tree and that ‘ahimsa’, (non violence) is one of its many branches” (138).
Thus, it is not a movement that will cause any form of chaos, riot or upheaval and that any Satyagrahi (follower) is bound by duty to ensure that no lawless behavior or action takes place during civil resistance (137). As such, the follower must respect not only the authorities but also other laws that are deemed moral enough.
A follower must be disciplined enough and not perform any immoral act of indiscipline against any individual as well as the government. Resistance is only for those laws that are immoral. Still concerning the conduct of a Satyagrahi, Gandhi explains that a Satyagrahi should not have any ill feelings such as anger or ill temper towards the oppressor. When subjected to violence, a Satyagrahi is bound by duty to put up with any form of assault but never retaliate (141).
In case the authorities that be need to arrest and subject the follower to any form of punishment the followers must to submit themselves willingly and happily take the punishment (Gandhi 142; King paras 1, 20, 44, 45). In case of danger from the oppressor Gandhi explains that followers must never run away from the oppressor even in the face of death and when death occurs in such circumstances the follower would “have performed his duty” (143).
King adds that the purpose of non-violent action is to lead to a non-violent tension that will force for negotiation (King para 11). However, non-violence, direct action as king calls it, is always the last option in any civil disobedience. It is preceded by gathering of facts to determine whether the issue in contest is illegitimate or not.
Once sufficient proof ahs been gathered, negotiation with the oppressor is sought. This is combined with self-purification (defending the case) and if the oppressor does not repeal the unjust law, non violence is the final act (para 6). King adds that civil disobedience seeks positive peace and purification of societies and therefore ‘”any means to that end must be as pure as the end it justifies to seek” (para 47).
However, a new group of contemporary civil disobedience activists has neglected the spirit of non-violence in mass protest. Most of the contemporary civil disobedience movement participants have violated Gandhi’s provisions for the conduct of a Satyagrahi and are sometimes violent and harbor a lot of anger toward the oppressor and seek self righteousness.
These groups mainly include “gay rights, Critical Mass (environmental activists) and the archconservative Catholic League” (Lopach and Luckowski Para 2). The problem arises from the education system and as Lopach and Luckowski explains the curriculum does not instruct students properly on the real meaning of civil disobedience (para 2). Thus civil disobedience becomes uncivil.
Direct action is the defense of just/moral laws while rejecting unjust/illegitimate law and the “insistent on truth” (Lopach and Luckowski para 3; King para 16; Gandhi 140, 141). Lopach and Luckowski adds that traditional Satyagraha had a deeply ingrained religious inspiration that was the basis of their definition of moral laws (para 3) and explains, “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.
An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law” (para 4). Thus king concludes that no violence action is a very effective way of creating positive peace and coexistence by forcing negotiation with the oppressor (para 24) while Gandhi explains that the respect for such universal and religiously inspired moral norms does not accommodate violence but love for one another including the oppressor (141).
Civil disobedience is a pure means for the search for universal and positive peace created by understanding and respecting each other’s rights. Its intention is the elimination of oppressive laws the isolate and discriminate certain sections of the society. It is usually the last action and the purpose of direct action is drawing the attention of authorities towards certain laws that are deemed to contravene universal rules and truths on morality.
Followers of this movement adherer to discipline and respect to other laws and do not seek revenge from the oppressor. Unlike other forms of violence where the participants exhibit negative feelings such as anger for the oppressor, civil resistance propagates love for all including the oppressor. As such it is an effective way of spreading love, peace and understanding amidst major differences and misunderstanding amongst certain parts of the society.
Gandhi, Mohandas. On Satyagraha, Nonviolence, and Civil Disobedience. In Walsh, Sharon, and Asch, Evelyn. “Civil Disobedience: A Wadsworth Casebook in Argument, 1st Ed. Boston, MA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. Print
King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” MLK online, 1963. 10, Mar. 2011
Lopach, James, and Luckowski, Jean . “Uncivil Disobedience: Violating the Rules For Breaking the Law.” Vol. 4, No. 2, 2005, Education Next. 10, Mar. 2011 http://educationnext.org/uncivil-disobedience/