Civil disobedience is the practice of intentionally and openly breaking unjust laws as a method of social change. It has probably occurred since the first ruler wrote the first laws, but the term “civil disobedience” was coined by American Henry David Thoreau, who wrote an essay of the same name in 1849 after being jailed for refusing to pay war taxes.
In the 20th century, many oppressed groups came to see civil disobedience as an effective and principled way to change society. It has famously been used on a mass scale by movements for women’s rights, trade unions, Indian independence, African-American civil rights, and many more. Practitioners like Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gene Sharp developed a political theory of civil disobedience or Non-Violent Direct Action.
In Australia, civil disobedience has been successfully used by campaigns against military conscription, for aboriginal rights; and environmental campaigns from Terania Creek and the Franklin River in the 1970’s and 80’s to coal seam gas fields in recent years. From Jabiluka in the top end to the Florentine Valley in the South-West of Tasmania and many times and places in between.
As the world faces the prospect of irreversible catastrophic climate change, governments and lawmakers are proving unable or unwilling to respond in time. We believe civil disobedience is necessary to challenge laws that protect the rights of carbon polluters like Adani at the expense of all life on the planet.
We also believe the historical precedents give us the moral authority to do so. Laws have been wrong before and will be again. If we are to have a just and sustainable future; we need ordinary people to step out and resist the system that is driving us all towards self-destruction.