Civil disobedience is responsible for many of the rights that we take for granted today. This is because the liberal movements of the past were all civilly disobedient to the status quo, and that is how they made progress. Without civil disobedience such social progress would not have come to fruition, or it would have proceeded slowly. However, because the social movements of the past were civilly disobedient, and they resulted in many social improvements, it left an impressive historical track record of the effectiveness of civil disobedience. This historical track record set a precedent for current and future social movements, and provided the bedrock to launch their campaign successfully. Additionally, the current social movements are just as impressive as they were in the past, thanks to the role civil disobedience has played in them. Therefore, civil disobedience is still an effective means of change in our world today.
Even though without civil disobedience Americans would not have the great social movements of the past to be proud of, there are times when individuals within a movement are engaged in harmful civil disobedience. This is because civil disobedience can be harmful or ineffective if those who are behaving civilly disobedient are indeed harming the very cause they are trying to benefit. Furthermore, if a movement is to succeed it must have rhetoric that can positively and effectively allow the movement to gain the positive public image, and momentum, it needs to succeed. For example, feminism is a movement that advocates for equality between both genders, not just women or ethnic minority women, however, there are feminists that advocate the opposite. Bahar Mustafa is one of these harmful feminists, a summary of her position is: “I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender”(Mustafa). Racism and sexism are – ism’s, i.e ideologies, meaning that they describe beliefs and ideas, not concrete and tangible real world structures of privilege. Her argument is ad hoc and she redefines the terms racism and sexism so she can push her sexist rhetoric, which is harming the movement she is trying to support. Mustafa continues to write: “…and therefore women of color and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist because we cannot hope to benefit from such a system”(Mustafa), and “Reverse racism and reverse sexism are not real”(Mustafa). Her rhetoric is harmful because it contradicts the central theme of feminism – equality between both genders, and substitutes it with a sexist rhetoric, resulting in an increased perception of feminists as man haters. Fortunately, those who are engaged in harmful civil disobedience can be constrained by beneficial civil disobedience, by those who are willing to behave disobediently against the harmful advocates within the movement. So, ironically, even though disobedience can sometimes be harmful we can counter it with beneficial disobedience, resulting in a net gain of beneficial civil disobedience. This is because, not only would the movement of feminism be improved by removing a few bad apologists, it would also lead to a better public image of feminism and more social progress. So, even though civil disobedience is mostly beneficial, there are still instances when it can be harmful, and the solution to this problem is indeed beneficial civil disobedience. Therefore, civil disobedience is still an effective means for change in our world today, because even when it is harmful for social progress it can be remedied with beneficial civil disobedience.
Without civil disobedience the world would be worse off than it is now and social progress would move at a snail’s pace. Social change would be neglected because those who are currently benefiting from a system that is disadvantageous to others would be hesitant to change the status quo. In order for social progress to come to fruition there must be a movement of people that do not stand idly by while social injustices occur, and act disobediently against those in power in order to correct them. Similarly, social injustices manifest themselves in the class struggles of minorities: “critics of the way minorities are treated in the United States argue that the country has a long way to go to truly become a society that offers equal opportunities to all”(Issues & Controversies). Therefore, without civil disobedience there cannot be liberty and equality for all, because there is still work to be done for the rights of minorities. Additionally, although America started with the principles of liberty and equality for all, it has an embarrassing track record of failing to provide such liberty and equality for minorities. The denial of liberty and equality for all was with us since the founding of the colonies: “Slaves were first brought to mainland North America in the early 1600s, where they were sold to settlers in Jamestown”(Issues & Controversies). The slaves that were brought here had to suffer the fate of being dehumanized by their masters, and this only ended in the 19th century with the Civil War, i.e. an act of civil disobedience. However, their troubles did not end: “Although blacks were free in the North… African Americans still faced massive discrimination in northern states”(Issues & Controversies). Even though the North won the Civil War, and freed the slaves, African Americans had to deal with obstacles before they could have equal rights. They dealt with these obstacles through civil disobedience and were rewarded soon after: “the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, secured black men the right to vote”(Issues & Controversies). Clearly, civil disobedience played a paramount role in the acquisition of rights and freedoms for African Americans, and without civil disobedience, they may not have even been freed from slavery. Therefore, civil disobedience is an effective force for change, because without it the world would be worse off.
One of the main reasons civil disobedience is still an effective means for change in our world today is because of it’s impressive track record in the past, and past results can be a good indicator of future results. If it was not for civil disobedience in the past we would still have slavery, institutional bigotry, and general inequality in the distribution of civil rights that is unfavorable to minorities and women. So, thankfully American society has benefited from our many civilly disobedience movements of the past such as the movements to remove institutional bigotry. For example, following the Civil War: “three new amendments to the U.S. Constitution, collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments, are ratified”(Issues & Controversies). These amendments improved the lives of African Americans exponentially and it could not have been done without civil disobedience. The first two amendments are: “The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolishes slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) states that all those born on U.S. soil… have equal protection under the law”(Issues & Controversies). These amendments attempt to guarantee the abolition of institutional bigotry, however, African Americans still had to deal with lackluster implementation of these amendments and slow social progress by those in power. Thankfully, as a consequence of civil disobedience, African Americans achieved social change: “Throughout the 20th century African Americans secured basic legal and civil rights through court battles, boycotts, and persistence” (Issues & Controversies). Additionally, effective civil disobedience in the past sets a precedent for the future success of civil disobedience. For example, consider the third of the Reconstruction Amendments: “the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) holds that no one can be denied the right to vote based on his race”(Issues & Controversies). This amendment specifically set a precedent for change because women did not get the right to vote yet, and the civil rights movement went hand in hand with the woman’s suffrage movement. This suffrage movement had a slow start, but it gained momentum and started to achieve victories, for example: “After a long and persistent fight advocates of woman suffrage won a victory in the Senate today when that body… adopted the Susan Anthony amendment to the Constitution”(New York Times 1). So, if it was not for civil disobedience social progress would have been slow and there would not have been a precedent that later civilly disobedient movements could use to gain momentum. Therefore, civil disobedience is still an effective means for change in our world today, because past results are a good predictor of future results, and set a precedent for future success.
Civil disobedience has achieved success in the twenty first century thanks to the precedent laid down by previous civilly disobedient movements, and there is no indication that this trend will reverse. Civil disobedience has been responsible for granting minorities and women equal rights, and that precedent is still as strong as it was in the past. For example, as a consequence of the civil rights movement of the twentieth century – “In the 21st century, African Americans hold prominent positions in American culture, business, and politics” (Issues & Controversies). Additionally, a more recent civil rights movement that has benefited from the movements from the past, would be the gay rights movement. The gay rights movement has had unimpressive success in the 20th century, however, it picked up momentum in the twenty first century. For example, consider gay marriage, in 1996 – “a Gallup poll showed only 27 percent of Americans supported it, with 68 percent opposed”(Issues & Controversies). However, in 2015 this trend reversed – “a Washington Post poll found that 61 percent of Americans supported gay marriage and 35 percent opposed it”(Issues & Controversies). In addition to the changing public opinion of gay marriage there has also been a change in public opinion regarding the legitimacy of homosexuality in general. In 2010 – “Spurred by President Barack Obama (D), Congress repeals the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, effective in September 2011”(Issues & Controversies). As a consequence of Obama’s repeal of this policy, homosexuals are now allowed to openly serve in the military, and to feel accepted in the society that they are fighting to defend. These strides in the gay rights movement owe their success to the civil disobedience of individuals who did not agree with the status quo, and these sentiments eventually made their way to the white house. As a result of the change in the public opinion regarding same-sex marriage and relationships, America finally legalized same-sex marriage nation wide in one of the most important Supreme Court rulings so far in the twenty first century. In 2015 – “In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court rules that state laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States”(Issues & Controversies). So, because of the civil rights movements of the past that provided the liberal bedrock for the civil rights movements of the future to succeed, the gay rights movement was able to legalize same-sex marriage. Therefore, civil disobedience is still an effective means for change, because it is still changing the world today – in order to make it a better place to live for everyone, including minorities and women.
Civil disobedience is still an effective means of change in our world because of it’s recent track record in the gay rights movement. The gay rights movement is the civil rights movement of the early twenty first century, and it’s success is predicated off of the success of social movements in the past, all of which had civil disobedience as a key ingredient. Even though civil disobedience played a paramount role in the success of social movements, there are times when advocates of civil disobedience are indeed harming the movements they wish to support. However, beneficial civil disobedience is the remedy for harmful civil disobedience within a movement, such as in feminism. So, even when civil disobedience is bad, it can be remedied, and we would still be better off than if we did not have civil disobedience at all. This is because if civil disobedience did not exist, we would not even have the social movements for there to be bad advocates of. Therefore, civil disobedience is still an effective means for change in the world today, because without it we would not have the ability to progress socially, and of its past and current success in socially progressive movements.
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