Joseph A. Werner
5 May 2013
Civil Disobedience, a Stand on Moral Ground
This country has a rich history of civil disobedience. In fact, the men who founded our country used civil disobedience to protest against unjust laws that they felt threatened their future and the future of generations to come. Tim DeChristopher used civil disobedience to stop the auction of oil and gas leases being held by the BLM. Mohandas Gandhi used nonviolent resistance against the British who occupied India. While Henry David Thoreau not only used these methods of nonviolent protest, he actually helped to define criteria of what is to be considered civil disobedience.
What is civil disobedience? It can be defined as the active nonviolent refusal to obey a law that is deemed to be unjust (Boss, 2012). DeChristopher, a climate-change activist, was convicted of bidding on oil and gas leases in a 2008 federal auction. A jury found that he defrauded the federal government, running up a $1.8 million tab he could not pay (The Salt Lake Tribune, 2011). As a result of DeChristopher’s civil disobedience, the oil and gas leases he bid on were later deemed inappropriate for drilling and withdrawn from future auctions.
Mohandas Gandhi launched a policy of nonviolent noncooperation against the British following the Massacre at Amritsar in 1919 (Boss, 2012). He used his moral outrage guided by reason to effect change in the cultural norms of India and ultimately helped India gain independence in 1947. Gandhi’s efforts have greatly impacted social and political reform, and have influenced later civil rights movements.
Henry David Thoreau was arrested for his refusal to pay a state tax in support of the Mexican-American War. He was opposed to the war because it was intended to expand the slave states. Thoreau not only engaged in civil disobedience, but in his essay “Civil Disobedience” he has outlined criteria for an action to be considered civil disobedience. First is to use only moral and nonviolent means to achieve our goals. Second, we must first make efforts to bring about change through legal means. Third is to be open and public about our actions. Fourth we must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions.
These three instances of civil disobedience have some similarities. In all three cases someone has seen a moral injustice, and has used moral outrage guided by reason to effect change. The issues may have been different, however, by standing their moral ground these people who could be considered heroes, have had a lasting influence on political and social reform in the world. They have followed Thoreau’s criteria for civil disobedience and more often than not been arrested for their protest.
When faced with an opportunity to effect change by means of civil disobedience, one must think critically and make rational decisions on whether or not the consequences to one’s actions will be worth it in the end. Since civil disobedience involves breaking the law, many times the consequences are jail time, fines, loss of jobs, social disapproval, and even deportation. Rather than resorting to fallacies and rhetorical devices, we need to be prepared to use well-reasoned arguments and assertive communication to back our positions (Boss, 2012).
Sometimes being a good citizen and fulfilling our moral obligation to be a good citizen isn’t the easy thing to do. This might affect the ability to be a good employee/employer. If your employer engages in activities you consider to me immoral and you protest against these activities by using civil disobedience, the consequences will more than likely result in the loss of your job. As an employer, there would probably be little tolerance for employees who are involved with immoral activities. Such activities may promote a negative image for the company. As part of Thoreau’s criteria we must all be willing to accept the consequences of our civil disobedience. Although the First Amendment allows the freedom of speech, it does not protect one from being fired from a job for invoking this right to free speech. I believe if someone feels their employer is engaged in immoral activity, their moral obligation to be a good citizen should lead them to protest these activities. However, I do not believe their job should be protected by the First Amendment. If the protest does not defame the company or create as negative image that may affect the profitability of the company, there would be no reason for the employee to be fired for their protest. This would involve critical thinking and rational decision making as to how to protest immoral action without losing your job. As per Thoreau’s criteria if you choose to protest and use civil disobedience, you must be prepared to accept the consequences. This country was founded on the principals of civil disobedience and standing ones moral ground. We can all effect change if we use the principals of civil disobedience properly. These three examples of how civil disobedience can bring about needed social and political reform. With the self-sacrifice of a few, we can greatly impact the welfare of the many.
Boss, J. A. (2012). Think: Critical Thinking and Logic Skills for Everyday Life (2nd ed.). New York, NY, United States: McGraw-Hill. The Salt Lake Tribune. (2011, July 27). JusticeDenied. Retrieved May 5, 2013, from www.sltrib.com: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/52265321-82/dechristopher-federal-prison-drilling.html.csp