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Civil disobedience

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Civil disobedience is the time-honored practice of breaking the law as a protest in favor of a principle or to stand up for human rights. Famous examples include the actions of Henry David Thoreau, Rosa Parks, the satyagraha[1] philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (and later adopted by Martin Luther King), the 1989 student-led anti-government protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, and the September 2007 mass protests led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar.

Thoreau coined the term when he wrote a famous essay entitled Civil Disobedience about his refusal to pay a poll tax because of his opposition to slavery and the Mexican-American War. In this original formulation, it referred to refusing to follow a law because that law was unjust, or led to injustice. However, the term is now used to refer to any disobedience, even if it's not connected to the injustice being protested.

As a general rule, those who participate in civil disobedience expect to go to prison or even die for their actions. Though there is some overlap, this is unlike denialism, which would, in defense, attempt to deny the law exists in the first place.

Non-violence is the centerpiece of successful civil disobedience actions since any overt show of force would likely be met with movement-halting massacre that the ruling authorities would chalk up to "they had it coming". The term "non-violence", though, is often stretched to include any action that does not result in direct physical injury, including blocking movement or even vandalism.


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  1. also known as non violent resistance