Civil disobedience is the act of opposing a law one considers unjust and peacefully disobeying it while accepting the consequences. This concept isn’t new to DC students. On November 14th, 2016, over 300 of us participated in a city-wide walkout to demonstrate unity and represent a population that refused to be ignored by our new administration. Now, almost four months later, we call to question the purpose of our actions. Did anything change? Were our efforts successful in their intentions? And if not, then what even is the importance of protesting?
In the United States of America, we operate under a representative democracy. This means that the citizens elect officials to represent them in places of office. This allows the citizens voice to be heard through a political spectrum that has the ability to make changes to government and laws. Now let’s look back for a moment. Although this is our constitutions intention, to create a government in the best interest of We the People, history shows us that not all powers in government are truly representative of all citizens. Since the creation of the U.S Constitution, the rights of any non-white, non-rich, non-male persons have been underrepresented. For instances such as these, where citizens aren’t represented, laws or institutions may be created that don’t advocate for the rights of those not represented. Through peaceful resistance, those citizens have the opportunity to advocate for their rights when those elected fail to do so.
Peaceful resistance is effective because it presents fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement than that of violent or non-resistance. This theory has been proven countlessly in the the past. I think it’s details are most accurately explained in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. In which King explains how his use of peaceful resistance was necessary despite his ending up in jail. At the time, Birmingham, in Dr. King’s opinion, was the most segregated city in the country. Here was a place where there political officials refused to negotiate with African-Americans regarding the racial injustices occurring. He called the decision of civil disobedience, “Direct Action”, in which they would peacefully resist the laws that kept them from their rights. He believed that although this type of action often ended in jail or physical punishment. This belief derived from the fact that peaceful resistance resulted in a very important thing called tension. “Non-violent direct action seeks to establish such a creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” This means that tension is created by peaceful resistance because it exposes the issue to the oppressor in a way that forces them to confront the injustice taking place which allows for positive impact on free society.
Peaceful resistance also advocates participator commitment. That simply means that more people are willing to participate when they’re involved in peaceful actions. Higher levels of participation contribute to enhanced resilience, a greater probability of tactical innovation, increased opportunity for civic disruption (and therefore less incentive for the oppressive regime to maintain the status quo), and shifts in loyalty among opponents.
When given the chance, exercise your rights to practice civil disobedience when faced with a government, local or federal, that doesn’t uphold your rights. This positively invoked change around the country with is a progressive impact on free society.