Please review each of the following to prepare for this activity:
The Declaration of Independence: http://www.
Letter from Birmingham Jail: http://www.africa.upenn.
Harrison Bergeron: http://www.tnellen.
Civil Disobedience and Social Control
As we see in the video and readings, tension always exists between the people and those we allow to govern us (“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”). While the people make the rules, we are also compelled to follow rules we do not agree with. We are also expected to defer to the law. For example, “going limp” has been one of the tactics of civil disobedience; however, this is also considered resisting arrest. In effect, protesters are expected to make it easier for the police to efficiently silence dissent. While subtle, social control efforts surround us. Is there a point where the balance of “liberty” and “security” has been tilted to far in the wrong direction?
- Provide an example from American and world history when civil disobedience was used as a means of protest.
- Discuss what resisting arrest means in the context of protest, civil disobedience, and current political and social climates.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
- What is your response to this quote?
- Does U.S. criminal law go too far in efforts to restrict dissent? What are the risks of preventing orderly challenges to the law?
- In Harrison Bergeron, civil disobedience was punished by death. Is this short story a cautionary tale? What similarities, or dissimilarities, does Vonnegut’s fictional society share with the “real” world of today?