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Hamer, Fannie Lou  

Sadye L. M. Logan

Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She dedicated her life to community organizing and the fight for human and civil rights. Hamer was also the co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Article

Civil Disobedience and Conscientious Objection  

William Smith and Kimberley Brownlee

Civil disobedience and conscientious objection are distinct but related social practices that display people’s opposition to specific laws, policies, directives, or schemes. In general, these two practices arise from people’s deeply held commitments. Civil disobedience is more overtly communicative and political than conscientious objection. Civil disobedience is also, almost by definition, a breach of law, which people engage in to push for changes in either governmental or nongovernmental practices. Conscientious objection, by contrast, does not always break the law: sometimes it is a legally protected form of nonconformity. It is also less overtly political than civil disobedience, stemming as it does from people’s desire not to participate in practices they oppose, rather than from their ambition to change those practices. Both practices can be morally justified under specific conditions that, among other things, include doing only limited harm to other people. Moreover, under even more specific conditions, both practices could be said to be protected by moral rights. Civil disobedience and conscientious objection generate pressing normative and political challenges concerning the nature of the rule of law, respect for the rule of law, conditions for deliberative democracy, equality before the law, policing, adjudication, and punishment.

Article

Snyder, Mitchell “Mitch”  

Frederick A. DiBlasio and John R. Belcher

Mitchell “Mitch” Snyder (1943–1990) was an activist who engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience. He was a member of the Creative Community for Non-Violence, which helps cities to provide emergency facilities for poor and homeless people.

Article

Nonviolent Struggle  

Stephen Zunes, Hardy Merriman, and Maria J. Stephan

Recent decades have witnessed a dramatic upsurge in the use of strategic nonviolent action as a method of political struggle worldwide, pressing governments and other institutions to change policies and even successfully ousting autocratic regimes. This has led to a growth in scholarly research on the history and dynamics of such popular civil resistance movements, along with growing empirical evidence indicating that nonviolent means are generally effective than armed resistance. Such nonviolent civil resistance is distinguished from pacifism in that it is not predicated on a principled commitment to nonviolence but out of recognition that it is the most effective means of popular struggle under the particular circumstances. Some theorists of nonviolent action advocate a more pluralistic model of power than found in traditional political science literature, emphasizing the withdrawal of consent, while others emphasize a structural analysis whereby the civil resistance targets pillars of support of a regime or other power holders. There are hundreds of methods of nonviolent resistance, which can be utilized in different circumstances and in varying phases of a struggle, which tend to result in higher levels of popular mobilization and defections by security forces and other regime supporters than armed methods.

Article

Political Obligation  

Massimo Renzo

Political obligation refers to the idea that there is a duty to obey the law as well as to support one’s state in a number of other ways—for example, by promoting its interests, by defending it when attacked, by voting, and, more generally, by being an active citizen. These duties can be very demanding and seriously interfere with one’s capacity to autonomously choose how to lead one’s life. As such, their existence deserves close scrutiny. The main attempts to justify the existence of political obligation appeal to the ideas of consent, fair play, gratitude, natural duties of justice, and associative obligations. Each of these theories is shown to struggle either with underinclusiveness or with overinclusiveness. It is normally thought that all and only the citizens of a given state have a duty to obey its laws and support its political institutions, but none of the classic theories seem to be able to justify a duty of this kind. In light of this, two responses are available: one is to give up the idea that there is political obligation, thereby becoming a “philosophical anarchist”; the other is to revise the traditional understanding of political obligation.

Article

Civil Rights Movements and Religion in America  

Paul Harvey

In the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, black Christian thought helped to undermine the white supremacist racial system that had governed America for centuries. The civil rights revolution in American history was, to a considerable degree, a religious revolution, one whose social and spiritual impact inspired numerous other movements around the world. Key to the work was a transformation of American religious thought and practice in ways that deftly combined the social gospel and black church traditions, infused with Gandhian notions of active resistance and “soul force,” as well as secular ideas of hardheaded political organizing and the kinds of legal maneuverings that led to the seminal court case of Brown v. Board of Education. The civil rights movement had legislative aims; it was, to that extent, a political movement. But it was also a religious movement, sustained by the religious power unlocked within southern black churches. The historically racist grounding of whiteness as dominant and blackness as inferior was radically overturned in part through a reimagination of the same Christian thought that was part of creating it in the first place. In similar ways, the Mexican-American farmworkers’ movement drew on the mystic Catholic spirituality of Cesar Chavez and brought to national consciousness the lives and aspirations of an oppressed agricultural proletariat that lacked the most elementary rights of American citizens. American civil rights movements drew from, and were in part inspired by, the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement. Gandhi’s movement deeply influenced black Americans who visited India from the 1930s to the 1950s and who brought home with them a mixture of ideas and practices deriving from sources as diverse as Gandhi and the 19th-century American progenitor of nonviolent civil disobedience, Henry David Thoreau. American civil rights movements subsequently became a model for any number of freedom movements internationally, notably including the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. There, religious figures such as Desmond Tutu became international symbols. Also, the black American freedom struggle based in the American South moved protestors in places as diverse as Czechoslovakia under Soviet domination and Chinese students staring down tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In the post–civil rights era, some suggested that America had moved into a “post-racial” era, despite the overwhelming statistics documenting racial inequality in American society. Thus, activists who have mined the connection between religion, civil rights, and social justice will have plenty of work to do in the future. The struggle continues through such contemporary venues as the #blacklivesmatter movement.