“Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History”: Celebrating Disobedience Day
Though it will have passed by the time this article is published, while I’m writing this, July 3rd is upcoming. You know what that means- it’s the day before Independence Day! While that is true, July 3rd is actually a very pertinent and not well-known holiday- Disobedience Day. It’s kind of like an obscure opening band before the group you bought tickets to see that you’ll end up really liking (I hope!). Disobedience Day, in its simplest form, is a day to just cheekily not follow the rules, but it actually has a much deeper meaning. It’s a day to recognize and remember those brave individuals who partook in acts of civil disobedience, and to get out there and participate yourself!
“Well-behaved women seldom make history”- I’m sure that you’ve heard this Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote innumerably if you’ve even dipped your toes into feminism. By not succumbing to the riptide that is the patriarchy, women who went against the current and sometimes even paid their lives for it helped pave the way for revolutions and movements to continue for years to come. We’ve all read about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and the efforts of the suffragettes- civil disobedience is a driving force of a lot of movements and ideas. But what even is civil disobedience? Is it just sit-ins or does it encompass more than that? How can we use it to our advantage to make a change?
Resistance or Disobedience?
A key element of civil disobedience is nonviolence. There’s a lot of contention among activists and impassioned political people surrounding whether or not this is an effective approach, but if you are averse to violence like me, this is a great option. Civil disobedience covers a wide range of activities, too. Any form of peaceful protest is fair game- sit-ins, peaceful demonstrations, hunger strikes, refusal to pay taxes/fees, etc. There is, however, a key difference between civil resistance and civil disobedience.
Civil resistance is the opposing of a “policy, law, or government” by using some sort of legal defense. The idea is to break municipality codes at max, but to never transgress any legal boundaries. This includes anything that we already have the right to do- for example, speaking out against the government on the Internet, lawfully gathering in protest, and even going topless in NYC to protest breast censorship everywhere else (thank you, amendment of Penal law 245.01!). The most important part that characterizes civil resistance is the use of a law for defense as opposed to deliberately breaking it.
Civil disobedience is the intentional breaking of a law in order to show how unjust it is. Protestors will accept the consequences given to them, whether it be arrest or worse, but will be perseverant as a collective in continuously breaking the law they are against. The intentionality behind the law-breaking is what makes it civil disobedience. Examples of this would be protests against female nipple censorship by taking one’s top off, attending sit-ins during segregation, and women repeatedly going to voting booths before legally having the right to vote.
Both are great, and two sides of the same coin, but it’s an interesting distinction to make!
Knowing Your Rights, Knowing the Consequences
In both of these cases, it’s extremely important to know your rights and know what penalties you can face for your actions. If you’re planning on protesting with a group using the tactic of civil resistance, make sure to ask someone what legal defenses you have for your actions. The main protector of your rights to protest are in the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and the ability to give the government and other groups a list of grievances and verbally hold it accountable for injustices it may have committed. As this right is not given to a lot of individuals worldwide, it is important to take advantage of it when necessary. Because of these rights, you are able to be resistant and resilient!
However, as we all know, police and law enforcement bodies do not have such a great track record of maintaining people’s liberties. That’s why it’s important to protest with a friend or group and keep tabs on each other, as well as have an understanding of your rights. The ACLU has a great guide on knowing one’s rights when protesting that can be found here. This guide includes rights for protest organizers, protest attendees, and those stopped by police. If you are stopped, just be aware that while you and your rights are (hypothetically) protected by the police, so are counterprotesters and their rights, no matter how inflammatory their views. So, if you are a member of a marginalized group and you are being protested against by a group that is not marginalized, be extra careful to have an eye out for your friends and fellow protesters.
If you are practicing civil disobedience (that is, deliberately breaking a law), then you may have to accept the consequences of being arrested. Whether this be at a protest or any other time, you should ask the police officer why you’re being arrested, as it is your right to know. That, or you can stay silent and declare that you will not say or sign anything unless you have a lawyer. You do not need to consent to a search of your belongings, and if you have videos or photographs you do not need to delete them. If you accept the consequences of arrest but feel like the officers violated your rights, make sure to remember any details you can, whether that be badges, patrol car numbers, etc.
Perseverance: Who’s Done It Before and Who’s Doing It Now?
Civil disobedience has been practiced all over the world for many years. People like Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders directly opposed segregation laws by occupying segregated spaces with both white and black protesters. Despite arrests, death threats, murders, bombs, assaults, and more, they persevered and managed to overturn the laws against integration. Though the effects of segregation are still present today and there is still, in effect, some level of socioeconomic disparity, their efforts have been regarded as the epitome of grace and power in regards to fighting for civil rights.
Today, people all over the world are being disobedient- and for good reason! Both inside and outside of the “good old” USA, people are protesting Donald Trump and his violation of human rights on the border, as well as his administration’s attempts to rob individuals of their rights. People are even protesting from the comfort of their own phones- on Twitter and other hashtag-using platforms, people are posting #Resist, #NotMyPresident, and other hashtags to show their support in the fight against Trump.
Besides legal protests like the Women’s March, the marches against the violation of rights at the border, and LGBTQ Pride, people have been breaking laws directly in order to make a point about their ridiculousness and inhumanity. For example, Bree Newsome took down a Confederate flag from a monument statue in 2015, only to be taken into custody after her descent from the statue. Members of No More Deaths, the support group for migrants across the border, were under legal fire when they left water and food for immigrants (which was promptly destroyed by the border patrol). If we combine the numbers of those practicing civil disobedience and civil resistance, we get millions and millions, all trying to help make the world a better place.
What You Can Do for Groups Protesting Civilly
There are many actions you can take to help the groups of your choice. Obviously, it depends on whether they’re being resistant or disobedient, but the biggest thing you can do is show up and/or market their events. If you are unable to go, just spreading awareness on social media is great. If you can go, show up! Individual people add up, and that can make a huge crowd, which means a huge impact. If neither of these are your speed, you can support them financially or through volunteering with operations. Additionally, depending on if you have legal knowledge or other specialized knowledge in the field of the org, you can use that in order to help out groups that may not have the resources for lawyers, management staff, or any other types of employees. Even though it’s past July 3rd, you can make Disobedience Day every day, because asking nicely for rights or better treatment doesn’t cut it.