Civil Disobedience and Moral Responsibility


I’m a little idealistic. I have a hard time accepting the notion that “this is just the way things are.” I like that about myself.

But while I am quick to point out injustices I see, and though I do not shy away from voicing my opinions, I often fail to take any meaningful actions toward redressing them. I think many of us here in the U.S. find taking that kind of action difficult. And why shouldn’t we? We work longer hours than people in any other industrialized country. We are often ridden with this terrible feeling that there is never enough time in the day.

It’s funny. We say “there’s never enough time in the day,” as though nature is somehow failing to meet our standards. So many of us refuse to recognize the reality of our situation: that the only reason we feel we need to work so hard and so long is that we’ve bought into the myth that human beings are supposed to live this way. We feel we have no other option, that we are powerless without our jobs and without our money, and that we have no control over the economy.

I think it’s time we start calling a spade a spade. We have forgotten that we are responsible for ensuring that our needs and the needs of our fellow countrymen are addressed. We have conceded the power that rightfully belongs to us citizens to a corrupt government that continuously fails to address even our most basic needs. We have allowed this government to use our money – money that should be used to improve upon our living conditions – to bring about death and destruction to other nations, to other human beings. We have allowed them to choose corporate interests over the interests of our communities.

We are responsible. It’s hard to come to terms with that, but it is true.

I think it might be helpful to reflect on the words of some great leaders we’ve had, people who understand the importance of holding the people who are charged to represent us to higher moral standards.

The genius Albert Einstein warned us, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Evil. I am not a religious person and am not prone to using that word, but there is no other word I know that is as capable of communicating the breadth of immorality and destructiveness we see in the wake of U.S. capitalism.

“We live in what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls a system of inverted totalitarianism,” says Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who writes for “And by that he means it’s not classical totalitarianism. It doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state, that in classical totalitarian regimes you have a reactionary or revolutionary party that replaces one structure with another. In inverted totalitarianism, you have corporate forces that purport to be loyal to the Constitution, electoral politics, the iconography and language of American patriotism, and yet internally have seized all of the levers of power to render the citizen impotent, and so that this political theater which we are witnessing is a charade. The Democrats are as beholden to corporate power as the Republicans. The judiciary has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state.”

The fact of the matter is this: We can no longer rely on our government to do the right thing, to bring about the changes that we need. Both party systems – Democrat and Republican – are corrupt and are failing us. It does not seem to matter who we elect, because either way, our money ends up serving corporate interests and the military, rather than the citizenry.

In his famous essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau explains why, when morality is at stake, voting is an unreliable method of trying to bring about change. He says:

“All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.”

It is time for us to admit that it isn’t healthy for us to live under our current system of government. Capitalism has failed to meet our needs. It is time for us to abandon it and build in its place a more sustainable and democratic alternative. It is time for some civil disobedience.

The revolutionary Thomas Paine is credited for saying, “When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of its happiness: When these things can be said, then may the country boast its constitution and its government.”

I think we’ve still got a lot of work to do, and in order to do it, we have got to come together and fight for what’s right. We cannot continue to stand by and watch as our rights are violated and the economy deteriorates around us. What can we do? We can begin to distance ourselves from corporate forces by supporting the local community, by creating and supporting sustainable systems, and by buying local food. We can stop giving corporate powers our money.  We can sacrifice some differences of opinion in order to act together for the betterment of the community.

We can take responsibility. We can take control. It’s not just a political matter; it’s a moral one.


Get Involved in a Local Movement –

Hear more from Chris Hedges about our current state of government, where we’re headed, and what options we have –

Ashley Weigel

Ashley is an undergraduate at EMU and working toward a degree in Secondary Education Language, Literature, and Writing.


    • Reply July 30, 2013

      Adam Hazlett

      Good job simply questioning the status quo. Too often simple dissent is not appreciated. Dissenting and publishing this IS action. Thoreau himself was a one-night ward of the state for not paying taxes, so take his “actions” lightly.

      I do have a question…can’t one also seek to patronize corporate entities or large companies that have sustainable operations (like a Costco, for example)? Sometimes one can stand in front of the bulldozer to be rolled over or sit behind the driver and move his hand…

    • Reply August 1, 2013

      Luminous Fridge

      Absolutely, Adam.

      Patronizing those entities that you see as positive, sustainable, morally acceptable, and what-have-you is the other side of the boycotting coin. Excuse my use of cliche.

    • Reply August 1, 2013

      Ashley Weigel

      Sorry for the late response, Adam. You posed a great question, and I am happy to share my thoughts on the matter.

      I believe localizing our food will do much more good for both our health and our community well-being. Building a local, sustainable system that relies on the interdependence of community members will promote the kind of attitude and way of life I think we all – or most of us – want to see. I want to see people thinking about “we.” I want to know that the money I spend on a product will be used to support my community.

      Corporate entities, by their very nature, are not wholly sustainable, and this is another reason why I encourage taking that bigger step toward buying local.

    • Reply August 6, 2013


      Since I’ve moved out to Cali, I’ve become friends with many “Burners,” the people who go to and/or believe in the ideals of the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. We’ve had many discussions about what we can do to show our displeasure with how the government runs things, or doesn’t, as the case may be. This community supports each other in food collectives, community gardens, and alternative businesses like resale/vintage clothing shops. We’re also huge gifters, where we give each other things we make without expectation of anything in return. I wish more people would become part of a community like this.

      • Reply August 10, 2013

        Ashley Weigel

        Thank you for your comment, GwenRobby. That is exactly the kind of community support we all need now. As Chris Hedges discusses in the interview I provided a link for above, the rich and powerful elite know the direction we are headed in and are preparing. We need to do our own preparing, because when the going gets really tough (as we are already seeing now), the government and these corporations won’t be looking out for us – they’ll be looking out for themselves and trying to obtain all the riches, power, and resources they can in a short period of time. When we stop giving them our money, refuse to acknowledge the unlawful and/or immoral powers they claim to have over us, and begin supporting our neighbors and local communities, we send a strong, powerful message. We can choose to reject the immoral and unhealthy way of life they are offering and work together to build something more suited to our needs and wants. If not now, when? If not us, whom?

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