Civil disobedience is the term assigned to actions taken by individuals to sway public opinion about laws that individuals deem unfair or unjust. Actions taken are usually nonviolent, and can include sit-ins, mass demonstrations, picket lines, and marches. Citizens are acting on their consciences, demonstrating highly advanced moral reasoning skills. Generally, these advanced skills fall into Kohlberg’s Six Stages of Moral Development, Stage Five and Six in particular. Characteristics of civil disobedience include no expression of anger, no cursing or insults, no retaliation, and submission to punishment by law enforcement. Historically, there have been many instances of civil disobedience: women’s suffrage, environmental protests, abolition of slavery, and anti-war movements. Two of interest are the civil rights movement and protests of the Vietnam War. These were nonviolent situations that turned violent when law enforcement officers or military got involved, resulting in murders, beatings, and mass arrests of protestors.
Civil disobedience is the result of individuals not adhering to a particular law as a matter of moral or political principles (Starr, 1998). Individuals of like minds usually form an organized group to protest the law and attempt to sway public opinion about the law in question. The desired outcome is to affect a change of the law in question, based on conscience of the dissenting group. This is something the Bill of Rights identifies as a right of governed peoples; “the authority of government is derived from the consent of the governed, and when any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it” (Bill of Rights, 1791, Amendment XIV). Citizens generally employ nonviolent means of protesting; ie: marches, or sit-ins, but there is a propensity for violence to erupt if police get called to handle the crowd of protestors.
History has recorded the role civil disobedience has played in many social reforms: the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, environmental demonstrations, labor union strikes, and anti-war movements. In each instance, citizens were motivated by deep-seated, conscientious beliefs that laws were wrong; all legal means, ie: lobbying, court appearances, petitioning, and legal protests, but were often ignored by political machinations and powerful individuals. Such was their moral convictions regarding what they experienced or believed to be injustices, individuals were willing to give up personal comfort and safety in order to effect change.
Generally, citizens taking part in civil disobedience employed noncompliance. Noncompliance is not considered as an act of hostility toward police; it is a form of resistance wherein those involved in the protest go “limp”, or become passive. Citizens simply refuse to comply with officer direction, since the foundation for nonviolence is to undergo a risk to one’s...