Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Movement: What Would Martin Luther King, Jr. Say?

In the maelstrom of the Occupy Wall Street protests, many in the movement lean on the notion of civil disobedience. But what exactly are the criteria that need to be met to meet the definition of civil disobedience? I did some research on the the subject, and I've found several sources that explain this inherent right of a free society.

Examples of sincere and conscientious civil disobedience or the the act of forcing a "reassessment of society's moral parameters" have taken place throughout our history from our resistance to British rule to our own civil rights movement. But what criteria did these movements meet?

In short, they were conscientious. In other words, the individuals protesting had a sincere moral conviction in what the believed. Their civil disobedience also drew attention to their particular grievance. This, in turn, provided their movement with publicity.

Taking the criteria above into consideration, one might argue the Occupy Wall Street movement meets that criteria. But there's one feature still missing, and it's non-violence. John Rawls, a leading figure in moral and political philosophy, wrote: "any interference with the civil liberty of others tends to obscure the civilly disobedient quality of one's act." Even Socrates wrote a person must never do wrong or injury in return for a wrong.  In fact, many philosophers and legal minds believe that civil disobedience can only be justified as a last resort.  Martin Luther King, Jr. admitted that "riots do nothing."  He added, "the ultimate weakness of violence is that it's a downward spiral, causing the very thing it seeks to destroy." He said causing violence cannot establish the truth. Taking these into consideration, the Occupy Wall Street movement does not meet the criteria of civil disobedience in my opinion. Radical and violent protest appear to fall outside the parameters of rational political action. Unlike the Tea Party that remained within the parameters of rational political action and the rule of law by supporting specific politicians or running their own candidates, the Occupy Wall Street crowd has failed in that as well.

I certainly understand this issue has been and will continue to be debated. But, as I review the news of the conspicuous violent and illegal acts comitted by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the last two months and this evening, I doubt their actions can be called civil disobedience. In other words, illegal acts such as injuring police officers, damaging private and public property, putting the health of the general public at risk, sexual assaults, thieves praying on other occupiers, public elimination and more cannot be justified. Therefore, a democratic society cannot support their current actions and behavior. In my mind, they've lost their legitamacy as a true civil rights movement if they ever had any legitamacy in the first place. They've violated the basic tenent of civil disobedience; namely, non-violence.

So what say you?

(Sources: Voice of America, Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Associated Content, MLK Research and Education Institute, David Thoreau and moi)

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