Civil Disobedience: Why It's My Choice

By Mark Johnson, Shepherd Center

Someone said that, "Confrontation is a thing of the past. This is 2015, a time for partnerships."

My experience tells me most advocates are willing to come to the table at any time and discuss the issues, but I have not seen too many of my opponents come to the table willingly. Partnerships are great as long as there is mutual respect. Frequently consumer groups usually have to fight to get that respect. In most of the productive partnerships I've helped form, we first had to get the attention of our opponents. Translated, that means they had to be confronted.

Civil Disobedience Is a Moral Act

Civil DisobedienceFew things cause as much controversy as confrontation. Yet Civil Disobedience (CD) is the main focus of nonviolent direct action movements around the world. Why do people participate in CD? For some, it's for very personal reasons. For others, it's out of love, rage, anger or lack of real progress with electoral politics or "normal" channels. But, the main reason people participate and stay committed to CD is that it works. From the Boston Tea Party, to Gandhi's Salt Campaigns, to the 60s civil rights lunch counter sit-ins, to ADAPT's blocking of buses and crawl up the steps of the US Capitol, CD has continued to show its strength as a vehicle for change.

Marches, rallies, sit ins, CD are a moral act. Through open disobedience, we take back some of the power we have lost to the institutions of society and use the power in a nonviolent way to get the opponents attention and bring about fundamental change. When real change finally occurs, it's always been about an emotional change, not an intellectual persuasion. Direct action creates emotion.

Civil Disobedience for Disabilities

Unfortunately many people still fear direct action. After all, it isn't something you learn in school or most parents teach. Some people want to believe research, being nice and normal channels are enough. Some people don't want to be involved in the down-and-dirty, labor intensive work of organizing. Lastly, some people are embarrassed by confrontation. Unfortunately for many of them change becomes something they resist and fear. Denial and conformity become a way of life.

Confrontation Key to Affecting Change

Personally I don't think it's about normal channels and being nice versus confrontation. A well thought out strategy must make use of multiple tactics. What becomes critical is making decisions about when to use what tactic, if at all.

Civil Disobedience for Disabilities

My conclusion after thirty plus years of organizing is that confrontation, direct action still works and will be around as long as there are people around who demand respect and want to create lasting change. Bottom line, every successful movement has culture, pride and spirit.

About the author:

Mark Johnsonis presently Director of Advocacy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. He holds a M.Ed., Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Mark is a graduate of the Leadership Denver Program and Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC's) Regional Leadership Institute and has extensive background in independent living, NC, CO and GA. He is the Past President, Fund for Southern Communities, a progressive fund that supports social change in NC, SC and GA and a founder of American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation and American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT)
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