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Civil disobedience is the act of willfully refusing to comply with a rule, law, or demand made by an authority figure as a protest against a policy or course of action This act of resistance has heroic origins and is often associated with extreme forms of protesting and non-violent direct action. On the contrary, civil disobedience is not about breaking the law for personal gain and does not involve physical violence.
One of the most iconic examples of civil disobedience was Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March. In the 1930s, the British imposed a tax on salt in India, which was an essential product to Indians of all classes. Defying this law, Gandhi led tens of thousands of his countrymen on a march from his home in Ahmedabad to the sea, where all participants were gathered to harvest salt for themselves. This, and other acts of civil disobedience, eventually resulted in India’s independence from Britain in 1947.
Another notable example of peaceful civil disobedience is the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. Refusing to obey the Jim Crow laws that mandated segregated seating on buses, the black community in Montgomery, Alabama, engaged in a boycott of the bus system until they were granted the right to sit wherever they pleased. The boycott lasted for more than a year, leading to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared public transportation segregation as unconstitutional.
Civil disobedience can also be seen in the student protests of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. engaged in acts of civil disobedience to protest the war and demand an end to U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. These demonstrations included participation in draft card burning and refusal to be drafted into the military.
The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 was another example of civil disobedience. The movement was a decentralized protest against the economic inequality and power disparities in the U.S. A key element of the movement was a nationwide series of encampments that were set up to disrupt the flow of business in major cities. Demonstrators blocked streets and prevented vehicles from entering or exiting the financial districts of cities.
The Women’s March of 2017 was an example of civil disobedience against the policies of the newly-elected President Donald Trump. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the U.S., Canada, and around the world to demonstrate in solidarity against the president’s policies, particularly those that target women and minorities.
Overall, civil disobedience is a powerful form of peaceful resistance that can be used to challenge oppressive policies and laws, and ultimately, to bring about social change.