What is Civil Disobedience?

Rosa Parks in 1988
Rosa Parks in 1988. Angel Franco / New York Times Co. / Getty Images


Civil disobedience is the public act of willfully disobeying the law and/or the commands of an authority figure, to make a political statement. Participants expect to be arrested, and are frequently charged with crimes such as trespass, failure to disperse, or failure to obey an officer. Civil disobedience is generally understood to be nonviolent, although some have argued that violent acts can also be considered a form of civil disobedience.

The purpose of civil disobedience is to convey a political message, which is accomplished through increased media coverage of the issue. Also, if the law broken is the law being protested, it sends the message to authority figures that people consider the law so unjust, they are willing to openly disobey it. An example of this is Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person, as was required by law in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Another purpose can be the disruption of the organization being protested.

In the United States, common types of civil disobedience include staging a sit-in at a government or corporate office, blocking traffic or doorways, or merely being in a location where the person is not allowed to be.

Famous advocates of civil disobedience include Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau.

In Animal Rights

Within the animal rights movement, activists have staged peaceful sit-ins, chained themselves to barricades and trespassed in order to film undercover videos. While traditional protests are legal and protected by the First Amendment, disruptive activities such as blocking doorways or driveways are illegal and are a form of civil disobedience.

Also Known As: Nonviolent resistance

Examples: The protest will include an act of civil disobedience, and arrests are expected.

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Lin, Doris. "What is Civil Disobedience?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 22, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-civil-disobedience-127787. Lin, Doris. (2021, September 22). What is Civil Disobedience? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-civil-disobedience-127787 Lin, Doris. "What is Civil Disobedience?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-civil-disobedience-127787 (accessed October 23, 2021).