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What is It Civil Disobedience

Categories: Civil Disobedience

The term civil disobedience means “refusal to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in governmental policy or legislation, characterized by nonviolent means”,(American Heritage Dictionary 3rd Edition pg161) notable figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

each practiced their own techniques on practicing civil disobedience that are still remembered today for their effectiveness. Both had their own reasons to practice civil disobedience but their utilization of the practice is similar. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to stop the South African government from treating them as second class citizens, while Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to stop the segregation of the colored people throughout America.

Civil Disobedience is an effective technique that allow men like them to achieve their goals without inciting unnecessary violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. saw colored people in southern parts of America been prosecuted based on their ethnicity. Mahatma Gandhi likewise observed Indians being prosecuted on the basis of their race. Both men knew that the only way to stop their prosecutors was to stand up to them.

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Mahatma Gandhi unlike most of Indian community wanted to stand up to Great Britain in passive resistance with what he called a “weapon of weak men”. They both believed that the best way to stop the prosecution of his people was through the use of civil disobedience.

Mahatma Gandhi used civil disobedience because he knew that it was the only way that the Indian people could fight Great Britain laws since the British held military superiority.

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Gandhi’s called his form of civil disobedience “Satyagrahis” and, one of his beliefs was that Satyagrahis made Indian people strong and gave Indian people the power to overrule the laws that Great Britain passed to subjugate them. Gandhi stated that Satyagraha was a peaceful form of civil disobedience and that violence would be prohibited even when it could be used in their favor. Another view Ghandi held regarding civil disobedience was that when a person decides to be a part of the movement that he knows the consequences of and is willing to pay the penalties for his actions it makes his participation that much more meaningful. Satyagrahis utilized news journals and books to inform people about what was happening, which was a good way to keep all members of the community informed regardless of race. When all steps went into action Gandhi and a lot of Satyagrahis followers were sent to jail. Gandhi told his followers that under Satyagrahis all of them should obey the rules that were set by their jailers as long as they are not in violation of their self-respect or religious convictions.After Gandhi put civil disobedience in action it didn’t take long for the Great Britain to attempt to come to a compromise with the Indian community about the registration laws as a result. Gandhi’s strong belief in Satyagrahis was what helped him and the rest of the Indian community stop their rulers and gain freedom for his people from the unjust laws. Gandhi believed that his use of civil disobedience was justified because Great Britain and their government were treating the Indian unfairly and would keep doing that until the Indian community would stand up to them. In a technique similar to the approach that Gandhi had used while practicing civil disobedience to protect his people from racial prosecution, Martin Luther King Jr. used similar techniques to protect colored men and women from punishment that was unfairly inflicted as a result of their color.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a respected leader in his community and we can infer from actions taken by him. That he believed in the effectiveness of civil disobedience, and that it was the best way for his community to change laws and national attitudes that depreciated the lives of African Americans. King believed that the only way to get his message across was by taking action, and that actions that must be taken should consist only of non-violent protest the absence of physical force. King believed that for someone to justify acts of civil disobedience, they must have proof that a wrong in society has been committed and that facts must exist to prove that your opposition against a person or idea is justified. King justified his acts of civil disobedience by showing that there was much unneeded hatred towards the black community throughout the United States inflicted by policemen and those within the court systems.

King then goes on to say that after you have proven other of committing that wrong had been done upon you, that you must present your findings to the people whose actions you are opposing through that attempt to gain a peaceful resolution. During his attempts, King made efforts to negotiate with his government but was refused an audience. Without any allies who could truly make a difference peacefully King didn’t had no choice but to take direct action against the government.

Similar to what Gandhi taught to his followers, King also taught African-Americans that the only actions they could take would have to be of a non-violent manner with no physical force against their opposition. He also told his followers as Gandhi told his that you would have to know the consequences and would be able to pay the penalties without and striking back with physical retaliation. When all of his followers understood what they were getting themselves in to, King took the final step in his civil disobedience strategy.

He took up direct action as the final step when nothing else worked. He chose to have sit-ins and marches so that the government be forced to give in and try to negotiate and give colored individuals the equal rights they have been asking for. Just like Gandhi forced the British government to negotiate with the Indian community under their oppression by not giving in and letting all of the Satyagrahis be sent to jail without fighting back. King like Gandhi, believed that the only way to achieve change is if you protest out in the open where everyone can see you and then accept the penalty, such as by been sent to jail. Just as the British government was forced to acknowledge that they had been unfair to the Indian population, the America government was forced to respond to the injustice shown towards colored people and to rectify their mistakes in the way that they had treated them in the past.

Both King and Gandhi felt that civil disobedience was justified because of the segregation and prosecution of their people were unjust. Civil disobedience forced others to see that they were wrong and that what they were doing was undeniably wrong. Martin Luther King’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s views on civil disobedience were both correct because “an unjust law is no law at all”(4). Not all that is made law is correct for all people and that is not correct. civil disobedience is an effective strategy to be used in today’s society day and people should choose to take past historical figures leads and follow their example his examples so that they would be able to use Civil Disobedience to make their messages heard and unable to be ignored by those who refuse to listen

Works Cited

  1. YourDictionary. “What Did Martin Luther King Do to Progress the Civil Rights Movement?” Biography, 7 Feb. 2019,
  2. Costly, Andrew. “Gandhi and Civil Disobedience.” Constitutional Rights Foundation,
  3. “Satyagraha.” My India, My India,
  4. Internal Revenue Code. “An Unjust Law Is No Law At All: Excerpts from ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’” Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Educating for Liberty, 24 Jan. 2019,

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What is It Civil Disobedience. (2021, Mar 10). Retrieved from

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