Effectiveness of Civil Disobedience Term Paper

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civil disobedience in America. The writer discusses the history of civil disobedience in America and compares it to the current use regarding the war with Iraq. The writer explores several aspects of civil disobedience and how it has changed because of the technological ability currently available. There were five sources used to complete this paper.

The use of civil disobedience in America is a traditional as apple pie. From the inception of this nation residents have used civil disobedience to voice their displeasure at government decisions and government actions. The use of civil disobedience is a right that is protected by the United States constitution. At one time civil disobedience was the only want that attention could be brought to an issue that bothered a group of residents. The television was not invented and the newspapers remained sadly local in their distribution. The gathering and participation of large numbers could bring the attention of the government that individual actions could not garner. Civil disobedience has been effective in bringing about the changes that were desired throughout the nation's history. Henry Davidson Thoreau, Martin Luther King and others have encouraged civil disobedience as a method of effecting societal and governmental policy changes. Today the nation has technological abilities that have never before been equaled. In a flash of a second the television broadcasts current events, desired goals and changes as well as other events in history. With the ability to control and spread so much instant information it would seem the need for civil disobedience had passed, but this is not the case. Civil disobedience will always be what is has always been. A peaceful and successful method by which to protest actions or ideas brought about by a government.


Civil disobedience in America was identified by philosopher Henry Davidson Thoreau in the 1800's. The use of civil disobedience and its benefits were outlined in his work titled the same. It is used as a means to protest actions of the government and the philosopher provided what he believed to be a blueprint for its development and use. It was used for many protests throughout the development and evolvement of this nation including the civil rights movement of the 1960's (Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Thoreau/CivilDisobedience.html).The civil rights protests and movements helped bring about change in the way minorities and females were treated in all areas of life including education, employment and environment. The use of civil disobedience has been acknowledged and accepted for many years. Currently America is at war with Iraq. Those who are against the war and protest its existence are taking part in various acts of civil disobedience to let their feelings be known. The fact that the media can pipe instant footage into homes is only serving to increase the strength of acts of civil disobedience because it brings wide range and immediate coverage to the plight of the protestors.

If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing you are cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at once to obtain the full amount, and see to it that you are never cheated again. Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divided States and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine (Henry David Thoreau Civil Disobedience (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Literature/Thoreau/CivilDisobedience.html)."

The above passage explains how civil disobedience was born and what it is triggered by.

The war with Iraq brought out protestors that normally lead law abiding and quiet lifestyles (Mendoza pg). One example was a pastor who was willing to go to jail to protest the president's decision to go to war and make his feelings known. "If a major war breaks out in Iraq, the first thing Rev. Stuart Fitch plans to do is pray, sending love to everyone from Saddam Hussein to President Bush. Then he'll call his congregation to church for a service (Mendoza pg). And then, perhaps, the 78-year-old Episcopalian clergyman will get himself arrested. There will be plenty of people going to jail that day," said Fitch, who wears his stiff pastoral collar beneath a powder-blue shirt. "I'm thinking about joining them (Mendoza pg)."

The effectiveness of civil disobedience in the year 2003 is evidenced by the many protests planned nationwide regarding the war. "Activists in more than a dozen cities have announced where and when to meet on the first day of war -- what they call "The Day Of." In Dallas, they plan speeches at City Hall; in San Francisco, they plan to block traffic in the business district; in St. Louis they will hold a candlelight vigil downtown; in Seattle they plan to march at the federal building. In New York City, organizers hope to crowd Times Square with protesters (Mendoza pg). "

The effectiveness of civil disobedience in this current era can be proven in the numbers that it attracts. "The long buildup to the war "is doing wonders for organizing," according to Scott Lynch, a spokesman for Peace Action, the largest anti-war activism group in the United States, which claims 85,000 members in 100 chapters around the country (Mendoza pg)."

The question of technology interfering with the effectiveness of civil disobedience is countered with the many ways it has helped with the ability to organize more effectively. "Peace organizers also said new technology -- e-mail distribution lists, Internet listserv Web sites, cellular telephones, pagers and other devices that help get the word out quickly -- are helping their effort. There are telephone trees from Olympia, Wash., to Fayetteville, Ark., and e-mail lists at peace and justice centers around the country with thousands of names ready to be dispatched to demonstrations. Bob Fitch, who has worked with anti-war organizations in the United States for more than 50 years, said the peace movement has never been better organized (Mendoza pg). "

Civil disobedience has been used to protest and draw attention to the arrests that often go with it for the purpose of displaying the wrong actions of the government in the eyes of the protestor (AFCS http://www.afsc.org/iraq/whycd.shtmWhy Civil Disobedience?). "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law." ((AFCS http://www.afsc.org/iraq/whycd.shtmWhy Civil Disobedience?)

Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Civil disobedience is more effective today than in the past because of technology and its ability to explain the foundational beliefs of those who are protesting. There was a time when it involved pictures in the paper of protestors with little time to make their case public. Today with the use of websites and email it is possible to explain before joining protests, the need to join them and this can increase the movement which is one of the goals of protestors.

Civil disobedience is not merely a bid for attention. It comes not from a crisis of coverage, but a crisis of conscience. My violation of the law of the land is a last resort. I come to this point only after voting against pro-war politicians; donating to the campaigns of their less hawkish opponents; writing, faxing, and calling government officials; participating in legal protests; and prayer (AFCS http://www.afsc.org/iraq/whycd.shtmWhy Civil Disobedience?)."

Currently the protestors blame the government for creating the need for civil disobedience by…[continue]

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