Passive Resistance

Eric Stiffler

01 October 2012

Prequels to movies can be very fun to watch. The movie, “The Wizard of Oz’ was made over seventy years ago. A prequel to that is coming out explaining the wizard’s origin. Just like movies, the prequels to civil rights activist teach us about today’s activist. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa parks and all such activists would not have been so inspiring if it were not for people of the past. Henry David Thoreau helped create few of today’s most powerful movements. Thoreau’s story of a humble and peaceful life in the woods sets the precedence for his passion of disobedience. Disobeying what the government tells one what to do is a scary thing. Thoreau had a drive to stand up to the government if it was unjust. Thoreau does not want people to show disobedience by rioting, but without a sword and in its place your ideas, your words and your civil disobedience.

The nineteenth century brought pioneers in human history. While Charles Darwin was advancing truths about the origin of biology, Henry David Thoreau was living a peaceful life without the requirement of the government. “Civil Disobedience” made Thoreau famous. Thoreau wrote about the unjust laws imposed by the system made to keep society just. Thoreau understood that government was going to remain a feature of American life and it needed to be opposed in order for it to be better. Slavery was the most appalling subject in the nineteenth century government. The cruel and unusual treatment of others was the tipping point for Thoreau. After the news of the Mexican war spread to his doorstep and he was imprisoned for not paying the taxes he did not support, “Civil Disobedience” was written.

Henry David Thoreau expresses many ideas that would anger just about everyone who read his essays, but the most intriguing idea to me is that peace and freedom are completely in your mind. I have flipped through the pages of Thoreau’s essay “Walden”, and every segment I read talked about nature and the joys life presented to him. Mr. Thoreau would be one I would visit if time machines existed today. The strongest of humans could buckle under circumstances he faced. In “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau writes about staying in jail for a day and night after not paying for his taxes. “I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone…” (Thoreau). The taxes that he did not pay for was for something he did not support. The poll-tax, the slavery movement, and even the war against the Mexicans were not favored by Thoreau, so why should he support them? The best way to rebel against such things is non-violent.

An idea expressed in “Civil Disobedience” targeted at government being a machine is that of wooden soldiers. Trying to explain this idea to current veterans may get you a lump on the head but its concept is interesting and no matter how degrading. Soldiers are a part of government. They serve their government, their people, and obey commands given to them. Wood, earth, and stone serve humans with comfort and shelter. Thoreau says solders, “command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.” In order to understand his ideas and focus, one has to humble himself and read without emotions.

Instead of standing up with a sword to the things Thoreau does not like, he expresses his ideas and spreads them in hope of others acting in the same peaceful way. The inconsistency of what people believe and what they do explain the much needed display of civil disobedience. Townsmen say they disagree with slavery, but they will march to the Mexican War. The support for the government needs to stop if what it stands for conflicts with one’s belief. Thoreau peacefully displayed this buy not paying for the cause and not running to the gun.

Issues of today would knock Henry David Thoreau off his feet, but the promotion for civil disobedience would still reign supreme. Today is a lot different than Thoreau’s past, but issues regarding injustice still exist. Obeying what the government tells us to do is not necessary to keep our lives in America, but the necessity to disobey what we view as unjust is great to keep justice alive. In a world where fighting with action is so easy to do and killing others becomes common day news, rebelling against a cause within a peaceful way can speak louder than action. I have been part of causes involving the discrimination against religions in street fairs. Posting a booth that displays ideas against an unjust action is more effective than killing someone. “Civil disobedience” shows idea’s that resonate to all humans, but we have to open our minds and educate ourselves to what we believe; not what mommy and daddy tell us.



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