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Civil disobedience covers mostly the unpleasing disagreements that exist in a society. In the society, if someone acts contrary to what the society wants, he/she is perceived as being disobedient. However, most people resolve into violence as a way of fighting disobedience because it is regarded as a vice. Eventualities like wife beating, corporal punishment in schools among others are examples of violent measures taken against civil offenders. On this account, the essay discusses the different manners in which a completely obedient society can be initiated without engaging in violence. It stresses the dangers associated with using force to solve social problems. It is also believed that violence can result to retaliation. Therefore, the right procedure to social problems should be dialogue.
Nonviolence and Civil Disobedience
In every society there exists a minority group which is perceived as vulnerable because of its race, gender, language, or even physical stature. Members of minority group often feel left out of most issues affecting the society at large. They may face segregation and discrimination in various sectors that constitute the society, for example social, health, political, or even economic sectors. It often happens that concerned authorities ignore the needs of minority groups or are unaware of their needs and rights. The authorities may assume that the situation is fine even if this is not the case. This may lead to civil rights movements prompted by the courage of some brave individuals in the society in their attempt address such issues. As they seek to address such issues, it becomes important for them to determine which means to use: violent or non-violent. As much as violence may give some people a sense of physical prowess, it is a very risky venture which could lead to short term solutions but long term problems. Non violence, however, is more civil and often prompts the relevant authorities to be vigil when dealing with the minority groups.
Non-violent means of addressing a conflict are usually very powerful, because in most cases authorities are ambushed. At first they may not know how to handle the situation. They get cornered and are more likely to give in to the minority’s demands or at least listen to them.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1963) in his letter from Birmingham city jail wrote: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
Having been deeply rooted in Christian morals, his fight for the rights of black people was purely based on common sense. He knew the power that lied within non violent action and embraced it as his ultimate tool for defending the rights of the blacks. He knew such power could be found nowhere else but in non-violent action. With the non violent action in place the authorities are compelled to listen to the needs of the minorities, whether they like it or not.
It is moral to fight for minority rights in a non-violent way because no one is offended. Instead, the authorities are confronted and have to try their best to meet the needs of minorities. Addressing minority rights non-violently sends a very strong message to the watching public and in turn it gives moral credibility to people fighting for such rights.
The masses then feel obliged to offer support to the people fighting to achieve social justice. The state has no option but to find amicable solutions to solve the problem at stake. When no one is offended in the process, the number of people supporting the cause may rise surprisingly. Such support may even come from people who do not constitute the minority. Having been in the forefront to champion for the rights of the blacks in the United States of America, Martin Luther King at some point in his letter from Birmingham City jail finds it necessary to thank the few whites who were supporting the black’s movements, stating that though few in number, the quality of support they offered was unquantifiable. He wrote: “I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality” (Luther 1963).
Luther was able to achieve such support even from the white population because he made the supporters understand the exact reason why he was fighting and for what purposes. The white population and the government had to come to the realization that truly, the rights of the black American citizens had then been adversely violated.
Non-violence means no loss of life and no spilling of blood. This means no one among the demonstrating masses is left to live with a feeling of guilt for having killed or injured anybody. It then gives clarity of conscience to the people involved and they can continue engaging in their daily activities successfully without fear of being followed by the police or anyone else intending to seek revenge. The society then becomes peaceful to live in and there is no hatred sown between the minority and the majority. The state must avert the tension within and ensure a peaceful co-existence between different groups of people without the minority groups feeling subjugated, less valued, or underrated.
Luther continued to state in his letter that “If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare” (Luther 1963).
In his work “Civil Disobedience” Henry David Thoreau, who have greatly influenced Martin Luther King claimed that the only obligation he had to assume at any time was to do what he thought was right. Though he did not like the way the state was always unfair to its citizens, he did not call for violence. He instead encouraged humans to realize they have a conscience which should tell them what is right and what is wrong and, as a result, to guide their actions.
Few points, however, have to be taken into consideration for those intending to fight for the oppressed in society. These points are discussed further in the paper.
To start the fight for the rights of the minority groups, the minority should come out and speak together regarding the issue they want to be addressed. Having a spokesperson who will then communicate their views to the relevant authority is mandatory since the masses cannot all engage in dialogue with the relevant authorities.
The use of mass media to advocate for the rights of minorities helps minorities to gain sympathy from other members of a society. As a result they may even get support from the majority who are not being oppressed. With such support minorities can achieve more in advocating for their rights (Thoreau 1969).
Further, there must be justifiable evidence on the oppression of the minority. Such evidence is what will prompt convincing the masses without using violence but using logic and reason to fight for people’s rights. The goal must be very clear and be well communicated to the people.
If the relevant authorities are keen, they can always detect when violence may rupture, especially when the environment appears tense with regard to the issue at stake. When these signs are detected early enough, the situation can be changed by trying to address the minority’s concerns.
When people choose violent means to resolve a conflict, however, more harm is created than good. Violence results in deaths and injuries. This in turn means that additional expenses will be incurred by the affected. In most societies the minority groups are usually the poor. When they lose their loved ones in wars or in violent ruptures, they are forced to dig deeper into their pockets to ensure a descent funeral. Alternatively they may spend more money seeking treatment for their injured relatives. Violence is, therefore, economically unviable.
Violence disrupts peace within a society. People may feel inhibited from their daily businesses. This is because violence is in most cases accompanied by unethical behaviors such as looting of business premises, raping women and torturing young children. Business people suffer great losses of profit in violent situations and are unable to efficiently carry out their daily business activities. It is therefore important for the society to be in harmony at all times and those who intend to fight for the rights of minorities must make sure they take this into consideration.
Violence leads to feelings of hatred between people. The oppressed minority and the majority may never get along due to historical injustices that they had to experience previously. When people living in the same neighborhood hate each other, it becomes difficult to seek help from a neighbor in case of any emergency. Peaceful harmony and co-existence is important in a community which aspires to reach greater heights in terms of overall development. Hatred may lead to more and more oppression of the smaller minority (Skrentny 2002)
Violence is chaotic and in most cases the state cannot address the needs of a chaotic group. Many governments do embrace non-violent means of resolving conflicts. The United States government is not an exception. To ensure that the rights of minorities are addressed, there must be an organized way of presenting the prevailing facts to the relevant authorities. The authorities cannot negotiate with the whole population championing for their rights. They instead need to talk to the representatives of the minority groups, who in their turn present their problems in a logically flowing manner. If this notion is not taken into consideration, the communication will be impossible because a chaotic community can never find amicable solutions to their problems.
Violent eruptions have occurred historically. Their consequences have been nothing to boast of. Such violent eruptions occured because they were not prevented on time. Prevention is definitely better than cure. This proves the importance of governments to be vigil all the time and to take into account any kind of scenarios that may herald tension within the society. When such tensions are noticed in time and adequately addressed, the society inevitably lives in peace and harmony (Dudziac 2002).
In his book “The Minority Rights Revolution” (2002) Skrentny recounts the fact that it is not the issue of who the minorities are but which legal systems are put in place to ensure that minority issues are addressed. This means the relevant authorities should not spend time and energy focusing on who the minority or the rebels are, but to put in appropriate measures to curb any form of violence.
Clearly stating, violence has no place in the modern world. Violence leads to a distortion of order within the society, it leads to deaths and generally causes disturbance of peace since people cannot continue their daily errands. Most governments are also never willing to deal with people who do not respect the local authority. In such chaotic situations there cannot be mutual understanding between the involved parties. Non-violent way of resolving conflicts is, therefore, very important because it is very ethical. It gives the oppressed sympathy from the general public. It is also an effective way of communicating a message to the relevant authorities. Any group defending minority rights must know that dialogue is the only way to ensure that the needs of the masses are adequately addressed.
Non violence, therefore, triumphs over violence. It is civil, moral, and powerful. It makes the government authorities aware of the issue making them act swiftly to find amicable solutions to the problem. Non-violence also ensures that no hatred is inculcated amongst various conflicting groups within the state, no damages occur to the society members, and that business premises and the general economy of a country are not interfered with. Non-violence ensures the prevalence of peace and harmony (Salomon 1998).