Civil Disobediance helps when Fighting for Justice
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Associate Professor Susan Tiefenbrun explains.
"Within the liberal-democratic tradition, civil disobedience can be considered as a fundamental part of the right to rebel against unfair laws and tyrannical government. It is possible to argue that civil disobedience, as a dimension of the right to rebel constitutes a fundamental human right. Even more, I would like to argue that The right to rebel is not simply another human right, but the most important human right we have. In fact, without acknowledging the existence of a right to rebel, the very idea of human rights ceases to make any sense. We need to remember that the dominant discourse of human rights emerged out of the mass rebellions of the American and French Revolutions. Within modern society, it was the exercise of the right to rebel that opened the possibility for us to contemplate today the very notion of human rights. The right to rebel underwrites and creates the foundation for every human right to exist, its full exercise therefore becoming the only effective avenue of political defiance when those rights are under attack by conservative forces."
Tiedenbrun explains that civil disobedience is a prerequisite to all other human rights, because without the ability to protect and defend ones self against unfairness by the government, human rights as a whole cease to exist. Simply put, without civil disobedience, our rights would be useless, and governments could potentially be as tyrannical and unfair as they wish. Because of this, civil disobedience is an appropriate weapon in the fight for justice, since the protection of our rights is paramount in the achievement of justice for all.
Contention two: citizens of a democracy serve as an important check within the government.
The citizens have a right and duty to show their government its flaws. Paul F. Power elaborates;
"Civil disobedience has functional utility for the regime in a second respect, through informing it of its misuse of power according to systemic ideals. The abuses may have resulted from pretensions to sanctity, inefficiency, or elitism. In effect, civil disobedience enlightens the regime, permitting its decision makers to learn about their misconduct from outside sources. Because of constraints, those who engage in civil disobedience contest illicit acts of the regime, not the regime's 1egitimacy. If a positive response ensues, a third, possible effect of civil disobedience may be the regime"s correction of abuses through executive, legislative, or judicial action
Not only is civil disobedience a fundamental right but it is also an effective way to show a government the flaws within its systems. These flaws can range from an unwanted war to the oppression of an entire race. Because of the monstrous effects these flaws may have the citizens play an important role in preventing their occurrence.
Contention three: Civil disobedience has brought about successful and useful changes throughout history. Kayla Starr explains,
"Throughout the history of the U.S., civil disobedience has played a significant role in many of the social reforms that we all take for granted today. Some of the most well known of these are:
1) The Boston Tea Party -- citizens of the colony of Massachusetts trespassed on a British ship and threw its cargo (tea from England) overboard, rather than be forced to pay taxes without representation to Britain. This was one of the many acts of civil disobedience leading to the War for Independence, establishing the United States of America as a sovereign state.
2) Anti-war movements have been a part of U.S. history since Thoreau went to jail for refusing to participate in the U.S. war against Mexico, in 1849. More recent examples were the nationwide protests against the war in Viet Nam, U.S. involvement in Nicaragua and Central America, and the Gulf War. Actions have included refusal to pay for war, refusal to enlist in the military, occupation of draft centers, sit-ins, blockades, peace camps, and refusal to allow military recruiters on high school and college campuses.
3) The Women's Suffrage Movement lasted from 1848 until 1920, when thousands of courageous women marched in the streets, endured hunger strikes, and submitted to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote.
4) [The] Abolition of slavery -- including Harriet Tubman's underground railway, giving sanctuary, and other actions which helped to end slavery.
5) The introduction of labor laws and unions. Sit-down strikes organized by the IWW, and CIO free speech confrontations led to the eradication of child labor and improved working conditions, established the 40-hour work week and improved job security and benefits.
6) The Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, included sit-ins and illegal marches which weakened segregation in the south.
7) The Anti-Nuclear Movement, stimulated by people like Karen Silkwood and the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident, organized citizens throughout the country into direct action affinity groups, with consensus decision making and Gandhian nonviolence as its core. Massive acts of civil disobedience took place at nuclear power facilities across the country, followed by worldwide protests against first-strike nuclear weapons, occupying military bases, maintaining peace camps, interfering with manufacture and transport of nuclear bombs and devices, marching, sitting in, blockading and otherwise disrupting business as usual at nuclear sites.
8) [and] Environmental and forest demonstrations, with acts of civil disobedience such as sit ins, blockades, tree sits and forest occupations, have emerged in the last decade, prompted by the continuing mass clear cuts and destruction of the forest ecosystem and widespread environmental consequences.
In all of these struggles, citizens had reached the conclusion that the legal means for addressing their concerns had not worked. They had tried petitioning, lobbying, writing letters, going to court, voting for candidates that represented their interests, legal protest, and still their views were ignored."
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Karen M. Gebbia-Pinetti, "Statutory Interpretation, Democratic Legitimacy and Legal-System Values," Seton Hall Legislative Journal, v. 21, 1997, p. 240-42.
Law is the foundational mechanism of social interaction and the reflection of how a society organizes itself. A legal system will be "good," "just," "fair," or "workable" only if it structures societal relations and resolves disputes well enough to earn the respect and adherence of the public and, thereby, to prevent societal collapse. Throughout history, and across legal systems, theorists have employed similar, functional meta-principles as criteria by which to measure how well law accomplishes these tasks. These criteria, which I term "legal-system values," are that law be predictable, replicable, vertically coherent across time, horizontally coherent across related areas of law, responsive to societal needs and values, responsive to changes in society and in societal values, influential in fostering individual and societal growth and shaping values or morals, and fair and just in individual cases.
Karen M. Gebbia-Pinetti, "Statutory Interpretation, Democratic Legitimacy and Legal-System Values," Seton Hall Legislative Journal, v. 21, 1997, p. 252-53.
Finally, society expects the law to produce results that are fair and just in individual cases. For purposes of this discussion, "fairness" is defined primarily by procedural standards such as notice and due process. A procedural view of fairness emphasizes that, if the law's consequences are known and the laws are applied neutrally, persons affected can take steps to avoid violating the law. Thus, the "no dogs" statute is fair if it is applied without bias to anyone bringing a dog into the park. Procedural fairness may not, however, ensure substantive "justice," which, for purposes of this discussion, focuses on consequences. The distinction between fairness and justice is particularly important if the law or legal processes themselves might be biased or non-neutral in operation. This is, of course, one issue raised by critical legal scholars, who do not trust procedure to work in a fair and unbiased fashion to achieve substantive justice.
The Dangers of Majority Rule
Elias Berg, Democracy and the Majority Principle: A Study in Twelve Contemporary Political Theories, 1965, p. 27-28.
It is true that the use of the majority principle implies a formal right to express a preference on the issues to be decided; to that extent, it implies the legitimacy of opposition. Yet as we have seen above, majority decisions may be regarded as ipso facto 'right' and thereby, once they have been made, as sacrosanct and exempt from criticism. The use of the majority principle is therefore compatible with a majority dictatorship in which the minority's formal right of opposition is only of temporary duration. Moreover, even if all the citizens have the right to criticize as well as to take part in the making of decisions, some citizens may be permanently in the minority and may be constantly overruled by a majority refusing to make any concessions to their demands; the use of the majority principle does not necessarily preclude majority tyranny." as harmless and permissible or be regarded as obstructive and thereby as illegitimate.
Civil Disobedience is a right
Henry David Thoreau, Philosopher and American Hero, 1849R32;"Civil Disobedience." Online. <http://www.cs.indiana.edu...;
Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
Civil Disobedience Works
Paul F. Power, "Civil Disobedience as Functional Opposition," The Journal of Politics, Vol. 34, No. 1 (February, 1972), 45.
Civil disobedience may be of possible utility to conventional oppositional groups in several ways: (1) Civil disobedience communicates to other opponents demands that they were unaware of or that they may have agreed to overlook"either among themselves or with that regime. (2) A conceivable result of (1) is that one or more of the opponents becomes uncomfortable and begins to perform a adversary role with the regime. (3) On the assumption that oppositions are already acting as adversaries against the regime, civil disobedience causes them to enter a tacit or express coalition among themselves, thereby increasing their combined adversary power over the sum of their previous, individual strengths. (4) Civil disobedience pluralizes a highly unified, oppositional pattern"a functional benefit if this kind of result is conducive to oppositional effectiveness vis " vis the regime. (5) Civil disobedience provokes conventional opponents of the regime to reexamine their constituency bases to determine how they have failed to represent those dissenters who have chosen rule breaking over ordinary means of criticism; it compels them to take remedial action to regain the sympathy and voting power of these dissenters and their followers
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