When I was in college, one of my English professors commented that we study literature because it matters, that is makes a difference in the world. I firmly believe that to this day. So, as I was preparing to board a bus with 100 other protesters and travel four hours to Raleigh (the capital of North Carolina) to participate in the Moral Monday demonstrations, I thought about what I should read aboard the bus for inspiration. I decided upon Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. I could not have picked a more perfect book.
Although Thoreau wrote this in response to the slavery issue, his words are as powerful and relevant today as when they were written back in 1849. At one point I had to force myself to stop copying quotes from the book because there were just so many that struck me as important.
Thoreau asserts that the government is used by “comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool” to further their goals and agendas. I am in complete agreement. Anyone who follows politics knows how lobbyists and powerful donors sway the legislation that is enacted. And corporate influence is some of the most insidious, because, to quote Thoreau directly: “It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience.”
Thoreau alludes to the Declaration of Independence when he talks about the need to refuse and resist allegiance to a tyrannical government, but he also stresses that we should show opposition to an inefficient government, and personally, I feel that this is a major issue that we face today. Our government spends more time bickering and arguing about petty things that nothing of substance gets done, and when things do get done, it is only because of partisanship and not because of concern for what is best for the citizens.
All men recognize the right to revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.
At one point, Thoreau lashes out against the apathy of citizens, who do nothing or very little to effect change in the country.
They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote…
Anyway, I was able to finish the book on the ride to the demonstration, which challenged the current administration’s legislation that is stripping the rights and benefits of many citizens across the state. I could go into a lengthy discussion on everything that is going on, but I won’t. If you are interested, I encourage you to read more on your own. Here are a couple of articles that can get you started:
I’d like to close with another quote from Civil Disobedience, where Thoreau challenges us to improve upon our current system of government.
Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?