"Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves."
― Henry David Thoreau
It is very likely that you have come across the term, 'civil disobedience', quite a lot of times. While most of us do vaguely know what it is, we're here to give you a few historical and recent examples of civil disobedience so as to make the concept clearer. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines civil disobedience as, "refusal to obey laws as a way of forcing the government to do or change something."
Civil disobedience is a popular form of protest all over the world. When practicing civil disobedience, the masses taking part generally resist against a particular governmental action, decision, policy, or even refuse to accept an international power taking control, as was observed in the case of India and the Indian Freedom Struggle. Civil disobedience can be violent or non-violent, depending upon the situation. History tells us the tales of both kinds of civil disobedience.
Apart from the classification based upon violence, civil disobedience is categorized into three basic types―
Policy-based: That's where there is refusal to follow laws or policies that the masses seem to think are dangerous in practice.
Justice-based: It is where a group tends to resist any unfair laws or policies that are denying them their deserved rights.
Integrity-based: It is the disobedience when someone or a group of people feel that a certain law, policy, or decision taken by the government is immoral.
Civil disobedience can be carried out in the form of protest rallies, street demonstrations, strikes, occupying forbidden places, boycotting certain goods or services, etc. Undoubtedly, any protest against the government is likely to cause a clash between the authorities (like the police) and those protesting. Hence, most of the protestants are trained in advance about what they are to expect, what to do if the police attack, etc. Many are prepared to get beaten, arrested or even seriously hurt than giving up on their cause.
Civil disobedience has been observed in some form or the other since centuries. In a play by the legendary Greek playwright Sophocles, his heroine, Antigone speaks about how her conscience is much more important than the law the king has set, when she defies his laws that prevent her from giving her brother an appropriate burial. Resisting the king's laws eventually earns her death, but she prefers that over going against her own conscience. In the play, her defying the king's laws is a form of civil disobedience.
American author Henry David Thoreau wrote a landmark essay titled Resistance to Civil Government in 1848 that further inspired several famous civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., among others. His essay advocated the refusal to pay taxes as a protest against slavery and the Mexican-American war. Before Thoreau's essay, English poet P. B. Shelley wrote a political poem titled The Mask of Anarchy in 1819, that highlighted the unjust advantage taken by the authorities at that time, and pictured a new kind of revolution that would protest against this injustice. His poem, which has influenced activists such as Mahatma Gandhi, is probably the first modern depiction of non-violent protest.
Civil disobedience has to a large extent changed the face of many countries. The following section cites some famous historical examples of civil disobedience, both from American history as well as from world history.