According to Mattern (413), civil disobedience is an act of people refusing to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in the government policy or legislation. He notes that civil disobedience is usually characterized by the use of passive resistance or other non violent means. Bardes et al (154) on the other hand defines civil disobedience as a symbolic violation of the law and not a rejection of the whole system. Civil disobedient actions majorly result whenever there is a feeling that there are no available legitimate avenues of change. In such cases, the disobedient civil activists see justification in their higher legal principle to break some specific laws in order to fulfill their obligations.
According to Brunner (1), civil disobedience is attributed to Henry David Thoreau whose works inspired and influenced Martin Luther king, the leader of the movement. In campaigning for civil disobedience, Thoreau had argued that if a good number of people would openly disobey unjust laws, such laws would automatically fall. Brunner (1) notes that Thoreau’s approach had also been employed by Gandhi while launching his peaceful revolution against the British rule in India. Martin Luther King therefore took over to advocate for the same ideals of the non-violent resistance against the unjust laws. The nonviolent civil rights movement majorly occurred during the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was a mass scale challenge against discrimination, injustice and inequality acting on biblical principles and had significant social and political consequences in the United States.
Why civil Disobedience was More than a Political Tactic.
A close examination of the intension and the leaders of the movement reveal that this particular movement was more than just a political tactic. First, the movement’s major goal was to campaign for equal opportunity for all irrespective of one’s race or rationality. Bardes et al (154) notes that the membership of the movement came from various races. It involved the courageous African Americans, the college students and the religious students of many races. Both the black and the white Christian leaders joined together in an attempt to challenge what they saw as an immoral system of racial segregation. The African American men and women, along with the whites organized and led the movement at all levels (Mattern, 413).
Additionally, the tactics that were employed makes the movement to be very different from what would be typical of any politically instigated movement. Brunner notes that the movement made use of tactics such as of legal actions, different forms of protests such as sit-ins and freedom rides. Bardes (154), further adds that the civil rights activists also organized nonviolent protest demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, negotiations, petitions and finally the voter registration drives. They also disobeyed the laws that they knew were wrong and unjust. Brunner emphasized that even though this are the strategies normally used by the political activists, such actions were not politically motivated, but were aimed at influencing the government to give the African-Americans equal rghts in the United States (Mattern, 413).
Another reason that makes civil disobedience more than a political tactic is the concentration of the activities of the movement in the American South. Brunner notes that it was this region which had highest concentration of African-Americans and therefore more dominated by racial inequality. To be more focused, the movement further identified education, economic opportunity, and the political and legal processes as the areas in which the African-Americans were discriminated against (Bardes 154). These segregating issues had resulted from the action of the government in which both the state and local passed into law the bill which allowed segregation. The laws are commonly known as Jim Crow laws. These laws gave provision for restriction on voting qualifications. These provisions were aimed at reducing the economic and political powers of the Africans. By restricting itself to addressing discrimination, education, social segregation and voting rights, the movement avoided any blame of political involvement and interests (Bardes et al, 156).
The specific instances during which the movement went public was also purely in reaction to certain actions by the government that they felt were unjust. Examples include its reaction against the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 and another reaction to the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 in Montgomery.
Brunner notes that in its agitation for racial equality, the movement employed non-violent social change. He observes that the leaders were devoted to the ideals of peaceful change. They restrained themselves from using bloody resistance and never attack any institutions in their attempt to pass their message. Bardes et al (156) notes that even though their peaceful approaches were often met with threats, arrests, and beatings from the authority, the leaders still emphasized on the need to keep peace. Martin Luther King advised his subjects to remain committed to conducting their struggle in a dignified and disciplined manner. This was in line with the King’s philosophy of ‘tough mindedness and tenderheartedness’. These virtues were very effective in inspiring and instilling the moral authority among the members of the movement (Brunner, 1).
It is noted that the major reason for the success of the civil rights movement was its tactic of empowering different African-American Organizations. The movement through its representative in the peaceful change talk tactically presented the proposals of the movement to the policy makers who slowly began to act on their favor. Some of the ideas accepted by the policy makers include the pacifism by Martin Luther King Jr., the theology of Reverend King and the street rage of Malcolm.
In conclusion, it is clear that the civil disobedience was more than just any political tactic. The movement brought together people of different races but with specific agenda of improving the lives of Africans living all over the United States. Its approach was very appropriate to the ending of segregating practices. Its peaceful approach and clear agenda saved it from being criticized of any political motives or involvement. The speeches of its leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson are still influential in the segregation debate in America. This approach can surely be recommended for use even in the political arena instead of the volatile party actions and reactions.