Tag Archives: Civil Disobedience

MPSL VLog: Occupy McAmerica

The First Amendment protects your right to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  But does it protect the right to gather in public spaces and ask for large-scale change?  Professor Gaffaney explains.


Honoring Civil Disobedience: Freedom on the March

The right to peaceably assemble is one of the most important freedoms enjoyed in a democratic society.  During times of trouble, the freedom of assembly is usually one of the first rights to be abridged—sometimes violently—instantly turning citizens into criminals by virtue of their actions.  In our own history, the Constitutional right to assemble (joined by its close relatives the freedoms of speech and the press) has provided some of the most enduring images of civil disobedience in the last 100 years.  Civil disobedience refers to the public violation of the law for the expressed purpose of advancing some higher law or good.

2011 is already providing us with tragic reminders that our ability to leave the relative safety of our homes for the purpose of meeting with our neighbors to plan the future happiness of our children is fraught with dangers.  Thus, we must teach about the freedom to express ourselves, and the right to meet with others to share our ideas, and the ability of a free press to cover such revolutionary actions. We must have a collective memory of enduring images; women marching for the right to vote; men and women on strike along the coal rich mountains of Appalachia; men and women marching in Alabama for civil rights.   Tehran.  Tucson.  Cairo.  Civic virtues in any society must be some reflection of our capacity to interpret individual notions of good, of right, as pieces of a greater common good that may only be an ideal or dream, but one worth sharing and advancing in the light of day–even when madness lets loose the dogs of war; even when fear says “No!”; even when insanity says . . . nothing.

Non-violent civil disobedience can work in even the most conflict-ravaged places. In his blog, The Lede, “Palestinians Sentenced for Civil Disobedience,” Robert Mackey (The New York Times, January 26, 2011) describes the amazing long-term operation opposing the construction of security barriers that would divide Palestinians from their very livelihoods.  The article chronicles the history of the protests and the recent prison sentences meted-out to Palestinian protesters by the Israeli government; yet another reminder that exercising freedoms often comes at great costs to those who dare.