Civil Disobedience in Modern Times
Civil disobedience is at least as old as Socrates, who preferred to die rather than yield to a demand to stop asking questions that embarrassed the authorities, to whom he said, “I shall obey God, rather than you.”
The most famous examples of civil disobedience are Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March against British colonial rule, and Martin Luther King uprising in the southern states of USA in 1960s against white supremacy. Martin Luther King used civil disobedience as a means of effectuating a government change. It took the form of large-scale, non-violent refusals to obey government instructions. Civil Disobedience is the refusal to obey government demands or commands and nonresistance to consequent arrest and punishment.
That is the uprising of poor people against oppressive power whose rules were introduced much earlier in the 1840s.
In his work, “Civil Disobedience,” philosopher Henry David Thoreau argues that citizens must disobey the rule of law if those laws prove to be unjust. He draws on his own experiences and explains why he refused to pay taxes in protest of slavery and the Mexican War. Thoreau, thus, became a model for civil disobedience.
Staged sit-ins, marches, blockades, and hunger strikes have all been tactics used to raise awareness about issues that are taking place in society. Non-violent demonstrations such as these are known as civil disobedience. It’s not an easy feat. Everyone stands against you: the courts, the law, the police, the army.
Civil disobedience which is also called passive resistance, refusal to obey the demands or commands of a government or occupying power, without resorting to violence or active measures of opposition has its purpose in forcing concessions out of the government or occupying power. When you think there’s nothing you can do, you realize there’s something you can still do in the most hopeless times. We speak of the attitude of the simple man on the street against the political will that controls everything in civil disobedience.
During the Soviet era, ordinary people engaged themselves in music, sports and literature; they were not interested in politics, and remained indifferent, ignored everything. In the end, excessive control gets out of control and destroys itself.
Recall the last night of Stalin, a peanut he eats gets struck in his throat. None of his men can get in and help. He stays on the ground all night and chokes because he is brutal and distant with people. No doctors were available. All experienced elderly doctors were taken into custody and sent to Siberian camps in accusation of assassination and high degree treason.
Before the Second World War, all the generals were again taken into custody and sent to the camps. The second world war also resulted in the death of 20-million Russian people. An enormously sad figure for a nation of 100 million at that time. They had bad equipment and a large army in the management of inexperienced commanders.
We used to hear about the political jokes that criticized many public administrations and public policies from Russian friends who were close to us in 1976 when we were in Moscow for a 3-month technical training. “The state pretends to pay us a salary, and in return we seem to be working,” they used to say. Later, US President Ronald Reagan made these jokes public in his speeches.
There are two major reactions to civil disobedience, indifference and ignorance. Russians introduced a third one which is not to get involved with local commercial activities. That is why people migrate, why they prefer to live in foreign countries, make savings in foreign hard currencies and make new investments abroad.
Vietnamese Buddhist monks introduced a further option: to set themselves on fire, in most desperate cases, which is not recommended by any means. However, that was again implemented by a Tunisian street merchant who set fire on himself when his mobile merchandise was confiscated. That act turned out to become the ignition for Arab spring.
“Standing man in Taksim square in the summer of 2013 “, was another example of civil disobedience, which resembles “do nothing” option.
Civil disobedience finds its own indigenous application in each country when time and geography are appropriate. Some examples are minority representation in US house of Representatives, small donations made to US Senator Barney Sanders, underground publications in our northern neighbor or women stripping off their head scarfs in Iran.
There will be an obvious payback for every adverse unnecessary oppressive initiative. We observe similarities of local ruling with Soviet experience in supreme autocratic regimes. If a specific act of civil disobedience is a morally justifiable act of protest, then the jailing of those engaged in the act is immoral and should be opposed and contested to the very end. Good or bad, every nasty oppressive initiative has a counter response, and that is not paid in the other world, the price is paid in this world.
In Oceania, English novelist George Orwell stated in Chapter One of his book 1984, “nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws.”