• Deah Curry PhD

Civil Disobedience as Sacred Duty and Moral Imperative



Have you heard of Mary McLeod Bethune? I confess that I had not until today when researching quotes on civil disobedience. Look her up on Wikipedia. We are all indebted to her tireless efforts to bring education and enlightened perspective to American society. The quote above I find especially powerful and pertinent for today's political climate. Reading it reminds me of the Edmund Burke quote:

The only thing necessary

for the triumph of evil

is for good men to

do nothing.

In light of current and clearly racially driven evils being perpetrated against migrants and Central American refugees, some of whom surely are agricultural workers, my thoughts turn to the civil rights work of Cesar Chavez not that long ago. Look him up too. I remember his efforts as controversial in certain anti-union, white privilege circles, but am struck today by learning that much of his labor organizing and non-violent hunger strikes were, for him, felt as a spiritual mission. Chavez said something with special relevance for today:

The first principle of non-violent action

is that of non-cooperation with

everything humiliating.


Chavez was influenced by Gandhi's lifetime of non-violent protests that became a model for Martin Luther King, and other civil rights defenders as well. The Mahatma -- the name is an honorific meaning high-souled, or venerable, rather than being his personal first name, which was Mohandas -- led many civil disobedience actions against British rule in India and South Africa that subsequently inspired similar disobedience protests against oppressive governments across the globe. He too saw the connection between civil disobedience and sacred duty to stand up against evil.


Said another way, doing something to protest the wrongs perpetrated by government is a moral imperative.

Civil disobedience is a tradition of good citizenship that goes back for millennia. Moral philosopher and social critic Socrates in the 1st century BCE insisted on exercising his inherent right to free speech even in the face of a government imposed death sentence for the "crime" of "corrupting the minds of youth" by trying to teach the responsibility of ethics and necessity of justice.

Thomas Aquinas is said to have supported the disobedience of unjust laws and the overthrow of tyrants, a political philosophy that informed America's own founding fathers and Revolution against the oppressive -- and, history says, demented -- British King George III.


In short, July 4th celebrates protest and resistance to the Intolerable Acts of the king and parliament, and the organizing of new authorities, rights, and system of governance. This was an act of supreme disobedience, and serious danger. The ensuing war was no picnic, no barbeque. It was a sacred duty and moral imperative that carried profound consequences.

In the following centuries, Americans have forgotten that colonists pledged their liberty and fortunes to enable the various means of protest and resistance that served the cause of breaking from an intolerable government. We have mindlessly fallen into celebrating our ancestors' courage and determination with a frenzy of retail sales, the competition of baseball games, the thrill of fireworks that have lost touch with that brilliant substitute for the explosions of war. We make the day an excuse to over-indulge on hot dogs and beer, ice cream and strawberry shortcake.

I'm not for a moment forgetting all the horrors and evils that the colonists and sanctimonious Puritans themselves perpetrated on the native peoples of Turtle Island. To be sure I shall rant on that another time.

For now, call me a curmudgeon or worse if you like. I claim the right to exercise my first amendment privilege of calling BS on the unproductive if not frivolous way to demonstrate appreciation for so many who just a few hundred years ago accepted their sacred duty to overthrow a corrupt ruler.


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