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To what extent has civil disobedience been morally justified through non-violent protests? In the past, sit-ins have been used as a form of peaceful protest to raise awareness about injustice. Because sit-ins are a form of indirect disobedience, they are a key social change that I argue should be used to build power and effect change. Civil disobedience in some cases can overlap with other forms of dissent. In that way, non-violent resistance is the best strategy that can be used to advocate for social justice.
Symbolic protests, like sit-ins, can be justified in being an effective form of non-violent protest.
Non-violence resistance is the practice of achieving goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience or other methods, while being nonviolent. Movements have pragmatically adopted methods on nonviolent action as an effective way to achieve social/political goals. Some of the most effective types of nonviolent resistance include public speeches, marches, boycotts and sit-ins. These types of methods can be the most effective if they are peaceful, advertise precisely/correctly, are united as a group of protestors and at the end know how they are going to resolve the issue.
Following these simple steps, leads to successful movements with a true purpose in hand. An example of an effective form of protest includes sit-ins, discussed in Sascha Cohen’s article, “Why the Woolworth’s Sit-In Worked.” Sit-ins were great strategies used that were “precursors to today’s social justice activism, particularly the #blacklivesmatter call to action against police brutality” (Cohen 177). In this way, this grassroots movement (sit-ins) was a nonviolent strategy of civil disobedience that lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, ending racial segregation.
Sit-ins were effective in demonstrating that nonviolent direct action could be successful. I know sit-ins created a path for future stand-ins, ride-ins, wade-ins, etc. This is why movements like these can build power dramatically and create change within the blink of an eye. Steps to help describe a nonviolence protest, provided by Martin Luther King Jr’s article, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” included fact-finding, negotiation, self-purification and direct action (King 150). Fact-finding includes identifying the injustices, and telling the difference between a just and an unjust law and its alignment with moral laws. The negotiation stage is essential because its peaceful goals for political change can sometimes only be achieved after action. Meaning that negotiations must be two-sided, with both sides having equal power and good faith. The self-purification step entails questioning a person’s own moral strength and lastly, nonviolent direct action fosters tension, which in turn fosters the need for negotiation. With these steps being implemented, people were able to enforce nonviolence to promote their organizations and campaigns, like sit-ins. Following these steps allows for a successful and effective nonviolent social change. I also believe that nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people, taking a step forward for a call to action. Nonviolence in the end defeats injustices meaning the entire world learns to embrace justices. I believe sit-ins were effective because in some way they followed these four steps. Sit-ins evolved around an unjust law, where minorities were enslaved by the majorities (segregation), it included a respectable negotiation of peaceful sitting, it was self-purified because the ones who started the movement were able to mobilize people to participate as the movement later progressed, and lastly there was tension/direct action among the white supremacists. Because of how MLK viewed nonviolence, he believed “nonviolent resistance is the most powerful weapon that oppressed people can use in breaking loose from the bondage of oppression” (King Interview 2:50). This being said, the “oppressed” people were those who had no freedom. Through the nonviolent protests mentioned in his interview, MLK strongly believed that nonviolence was the strongest approach to regime from the system. Like MLK, I think nonviolent resistance is the most powerful because nonviolent resistance presents fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement and commitment. Successful nonviolent resistance is more durable and overall peaceful.
Another key symbolic protest that can be effective includes boycotts. Martin Luther King Jr’s activism, motivated by religious convictions and his commitment to equality and justice, led to protests like the Montgomery bus boycott. Boycotts were used as a “strategy for addressing racial inequality…stressing the importance of economic opportunities in black communities” (Cohen 176). In my opinion, MLK’s activism could be morally seen as civil disobedience because he used principles of nonviolent resistance to take action on his beliefs. Although boycotts now are different than they were during the civil rights movement, I believe those boycotts were effective because many people we able to participate, knowing they would create an effect on others. The economic Montgomery bus boycott was effective in making bus companies realize they were losing more than half of their income without African Americans being able to use buses as transportation. This protest was successful because it ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
Although I withstand my position of following non-violent movements like sit-ins, I know there are times in which people dissent with violence. Malcolm X was a black influential leader, who wanted to achieve true independence and equality of black power. He was apart of the Nation of Islam, and formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity as discussed in his speech at the “Founding Rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.” Malcolm X’s organization was divided into categories including establishment, self-defense, education and social. In Malcolm X’s category of “social” in the Afro-American Unity Organization, he stated that, “Anytime we know that an unjust condition exists and it is illegal and unjust, we will strike it by any means necessary” (Malcolm X 162). Malcolm X felt that black citizens were entitled to secure their rights “by any means necessary,” including the use of violence. Although MLK and Cohen implemented nonviolence resistance, “by any means necessary” can be used with non-violent protests because people can have a successful outcome by any means necessary if and only if it includes non-violent strategies. I feel that civilians are entitled to take responsibility for their actions, whether that includes performing an act of violence or non-violence. Malcolm X does in fact consider non-violent methods because they are the only successful methods. He believes that people should be nonviolent, with those who are nonviolent with them (Malcolm X 160). Like Malcolm, I can somewhat agree with what he is saying. I think people should always try to perform acts with non-violence to keep problems as peaceful as possible, but I do understand Malcolm’s point of view in people being violent for the wrong purposes. If someone is being violent towards you, you are going to be violent towards him or her also because you are going to want to defend yourself. Although this can be true, nonviolent resistance will always present fewer obstacles, making non-violent methods easier to use, to moral and physical involvement. With higher participation, more opportunities are created for innovation and civil disruption.
In conclusion, non-violent forms of protests are the most successful and have the greater outcome. Civil disobedience involves the refusal to obey laws that are immoral or unjust. With civil disobedience being justified through non-violent forms of protests, it can be the best method used to create a successful protest. Nonviolence is the best strategy because it includes being peaceful and un-destructive, contributing to its effectiveness. As the world progresses, of course there will continue to be protests, but to be honest the best method applied should be non-violence because it is the most effective. Violence by protestors can undermine the public support; therefore civil disobedience can be used to achieve almost impossible goals.
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