Monday, February 23, 2009

Should I be a Brute or a Saint: A brief look at the evolution of civil disobedience and nonviolence

I was planning on posting my projected Oscar list tonight but then remembered that the Oscar's were tonight and figured that that was useless. So far, I am only about 65% correct (my worst ever) and am kinda glad that I didn't post it. I still am pissed that Heath Ledger won the supporting actor Oscar, he didn't deserve it...
Anyways, here is a paper from history for you all to enjoy

NOTE, the numbers by some text correspond with endnotes, do not click them, they do not link properly (and i am too lazy to fix that)

Should I be a Brute or a Saint?

A brief look at the evolution of civil disobedience and nonviolence

Robert M. Barga

There are two ways to gain rights, either by brute force, or by civil disobedience. That is, one can either force the other side to change their ways, or one can show them the error of those ways. Brute force is something that humanity has been using for eons. Civil disobedience, on the other hand, is relatively new to human kind. During the civil rights movement, both methods were placed on central stage, and they went head-to-head to discover which was more useful, and which worked better. Martin Luther King Jr. worked with nonviolence, while Malcolm X, used violence if need be. Both wanted peace, and both wanted freedom, but they both had different ways to get to it. The question, quite simply, is which method worked better at the needed time, violence or non?

Though it was partially used during the move to get personal rights in Europe, and clearly used in Locke's writings, the modernistic form of Civil Disobedience can trace its roots to a Massachusetts author, the writings of Henry David Thoreau. In 1845, America had gone to war with Mexico and Thoreau thought it most unjust and uncalled for. He opposed the war, and he opposed all American involvement in it. He also was morally opposed to slavery. Thoreau believed that by paying the American government he would be supporting these evils, and so he decided not to pay his taxes.i

After being arrested, and having his aunt (over his objections) pay his taxes, Thoreau sat down and penned out his thoughts. He did not believe that the government had the right to force him to support something to which he was morally opposed. He did not believe that the government had any right over him, save those granted to them by a social-contract. He truly believed that to change this pattern of injustice by the government, it was the duty of any freedom loving man to participate in a nonviolent protest against the government. He put his ideas to paper, and published them under the name of “Civil Disobedience”.

Though Thoreau's writings were read and spread, they rarely appeared as a method for protest. Save for certain segments of the Women's rights movement, his theory of non-violence was generally ignored. In 1893, however, the concept of non-violence came into main stream. In South Africa, a Young English gentleman was thrown off of a train for refusing to move simply because he was also an Indianii. This young man was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

After being thrown from the train, Gandhi, a lawyer and well educated man, was face-to-face with the discrimination that faced his people. He quickly started to advance through the ranks of social activists, and became a well-known leader for reform. He believed that it was only just to protest non-violently, as otherwise it would be a violation of religious codes. He took his belief so far that he would not seek to prosecute any of the white men who attempted to lynch himiii. Ghandi's main goal was not to get the government to change simply because they saw protests, but to get the people of the world to demand that the British government change. Though thousands were killed, and even more were beaten, the Indian's in South Africa eventually gained some rights.

Nonviolent protests had entered American political interactions on December 1st, 1955. On this day, a forty-two year old black women refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks was told to give up her seat to a white man, simply because she was black, and she refused. Instead, she said calmly and simply, “go on and have me arrested”iv. This simple statement released a huge wave of furry over the treatment of blacks in the south, and it caused thousands to protest and boycott the buses in Montgomery.

A young black minister traveled down with the protesters and helped to lead the boycott in Montgomery. Throughout the 385 day boycott, his live was threatened several times; his home was even firebombed. However, never once, did he call for violence to be used on those fighting the boycotters. No, he wanted it to be non-violent. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested for leading these boycotts, but ended being vindicated; in 1956, a US district court ruled that “the enforced segregation of Negro and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery violates the Constitution and laws of the United States”v. With this ruling, King was shown the usefulness that non-violence can have.

In 1959, Rev. King traveled to India. There, he visited the family of Ghandi and it forever changed his lifevi. While he had led a the non-violent boycott in Montgomery, he did not fully understand what was going on, and he had let some of his followers become violent. While talking the Ghandi's family, King discovered that it is the Christian thing to just turn the other cheek. When King heard of what Ghandi said about his lynchers, he realized that he needed to be fully nonviolent, and accepting of what would happen to him. The Rev. would return to America a changed man, and he was ready to lead a new movement.

When MLK returned to America, he started on a new path. After a quick protest in Albany, King was put into jail again. This time, he refused to pay his fine and chose to remain in jail for forty-five days. Much to his regret, a group paid his fine and he was released. To prove that his humor still remained, he quipped “But for the first time, we witnessed being kicked out of jail”vii. King followed up this protest with another, this time in Birmingham. Those who marched with him were attacked by police, police dogs, and high-powered water jets. These images were shown around the nation. King was arrested, again, and this time called out to his fellow clergymen for help. He argued that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”viii, and showed that all Christians needed to stand together. This statement, along with the images of police brutality, united Christians behind the civil rights movement.

King was not unique in his desire for civil rights, however, another young black man was gaining ground in the movement. Malcolm X, formally Malcolm Little, was a Muslim who was strongly for racial separation and black self-relianceix. Malcolm X wanted the same thing as King, but found that the concept of non-violence would not work. He believed that “it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks”x. Malcolm X truly believed that you needed to be peaceful and nonviolent, until they hit you. Once you were attacked, you had the right to strike back.

Obviously, King had an issue with this concept, but they were not too far apart. Both King and Malcolm X worked together, and both had a large respect for one another. Malcolm X said “If the white people realize what the alternative is, perhaps they will be more willing to hear Dr. King.xi” about his visit to Selma at the same time that King was down there working. The two balanced each other out, and Malcolm X helped to show that there was reason and justice in the method used by King.

After Malcolm X was assassinated, the nonviolence movement took an even more drastic turn. Americans did not like his tactics, but also thought that he didn't deserve to be killed. King kept this in mind when he organized a march on Selma, again. However, this time, he was talked out of going on the march by President Johnson. The march went on anyway, against King's protests, and was led by local civil rights leaders. The police brutality was drastic, and the marchers were attacked brutally and intensely. This time, unlike with Birmingham, the press was on hand to film and photograph the police response. Bloody Sunday, as it became known asxii, turned the public opinion towards granting blacks their rights. The attack from police on the black marchers fully showed the public what was happening, and they united.

Nonviolence had evolved from its humble beginnings as a tax protest to full scaled protests featuring tens of thousands of people. The movements started by Thoreau in the middle of the 1800s completed its cycle in the 1960s when court decisions and laws gave blacks their full rights. Though the usage was debated during the time, with people thinking that it was wrong, and those thinking that nonviolence would not work, the movement proved them wrong. The Civil Rights movement cemented the fact that nonviolence was a viable and useful tool for gaining rights.

i"The Theory, Practice & Influence of Thoreau's Civil Disobedience” - from “A Historical Guide to Henry David Thoreau” - Rosenwald, Lawrence - 2006

iiPietermaritzburg: The Beginning of Gandhi's Odyssey” - - 2/20/09

ivRetrieving the American Past” - page 137 - Excerpt from Rosa Park's interview

vBrowder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (1956)

viThe papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.” - University of California Press – pg 3 - 1998

viiThe papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.” - University of California Press – pg 3 - 1998

viiiRetrieving the American Past” - page 143 - Excerpt from MLK Jr's “Letter From Birmingham Jail”

ixRetrieving the American Past” - page 146

xAn interview with Malcolm X, WUST interview, 1963

xiMy Life With MLK Jr.” - Coretta Scott King – pg 256


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