Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Reclaiming the American Legacy of Civil Disobedience 

What can all Americans do about their desire to see change in America? Practice civil disobedience.

This flavor of action is not just for radicals. Civil disobedience is the role of citizens within the political system and has a much broader legacy than one was taught to think. Civil disobedience, practiced by various movements of people, has been responsible for forcing politicians to comply with the demands of its citizens. Civil disobedience is how “slavery was ended, civil rights were won, it’s how women won the right to vote, and it’s how Vietnam ended,” says Anthony Arnove, a writer, editor and activist based in New York.

Arnove believes that it’s important to realize that: “Civil disobedience is how we have won any change that we ever brought about in this country and it’s something that’s absolutely needed today if we want to challenge the course of the Bush administration and the Democratic Party.”

Civil disobedience may sound unappealing. After all, the very term makes this action seem deviant, and the common image is of protestors being arrested. But civil disobedience comes in many forms. It is the active refusal to obey certain laws or demands of government without resorting to physical violence. By understanding and reframing what civil disobedience is, it is easy to remove inhibition and see civil disobedience as a responsibility, rather than as a marginalized act.

Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove highlight the ever-present role of American civil disobedience in their new book, Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Selections from this collection of first-hand accounts, journal entries, speeches, personal letters, and published opinion pieces were read dramatically by actors including Danny Glover, Marissa Tomei, Sandra Oh, and many others at a Los Angeles event this month.

The parallels of history to the current situation were glaring. The audience could not help making sounds as they recognized this concordance of past and present.

Reclaiming the American Legacy of Civil Disobedience


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