Unit Six, Question Three
Do all citizens have the responsibility to participate in the political life of the nations? Why or why not?
- If citizens should participate, what forms should that participation take?
- Is civil disobedience ever a justified form of political participation? Explain your position.
- Bonnie: All citizens have the responsibility to participate in the political life of the nation. They have the responsibility to participate in the political life of the nation. They have responsibility to become informed voters and to vote in all elections. They should also be willing to assist their government to the best of their ability. Assistance could be in the form of writing their approval or disapproval to officially be willing to serve in offices or serve on a jury. Government by the people means we need to be involved in whatever way suits our talents and times. The government work best when all are involved.
- Susan: Furthermore, citizen's responsibilities are: 1.) vote; 2.) volunteer; 3.) run for office; 4.) serve; and, 5.) stay current and hold offices; 6.) serve on juries and being accountable. These are a few ways the citizens participate in the government.
- Tara: Expanding on that idea, to become effective citizens in a constitutional democracy we need to understand our roles and responsibilities in our government as well as their responsibilities to us as citizens. We also need to understand how our system was set-up and organized.
- Christy: Therefore, citizens of the U.S. have the opportunity to change laws and policies using many methods. Ideally, citizens would be pleased with the laws and policies in place because they had the opportunity to vote for and elect officials to represent their interests. If voting for specific representatives does not prove to meet the needs of an individual citizen, s/he has the right to petition for change. If the petition still fails to meet the needs of the citizen, the citizen may choose to run for, and possibly be elected to office him/herself. If elected, however, the individuals is still responsible to address the desires of the people s/he serves. If the people disagree with the individual, as a representative or not, Americans have the opportunity to speak to their personal interests and assemble to further discuss the issues. Furthermore, they may take advantage of a free press to address the issue. Should the individual's preference still prove unacceptable to the general population, there are several possibilities. Under the ideal of classical republicanism, the individual may simply accept the law or policy, recognizing it is in the best interest of the entire community, or the individual may challenge the law. To challenge the law, the individual must begin by questioning whether the law or policy aligns with the fundamental law of the land. If it does not, the citizen is encouraged, within the Declaration of Independence and through precedence set via the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, to engage in civil disobedience.
- Bill: Civil disobedience is justified as a form of political participation when the government and its laws have been become unjust. The person that wishes to perform civil disobedience should be very careful when they choose to do so. They should only disobey the law that is unjust and not simply break a law for the sake of breaking it. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. states in his Letter from a Birmingham jail, “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all…’ All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” For example, during the 1960s American civil rights movement, the participants felt very strongly about only breaking the unjust Jim Crow segregation laws. They would violate an unjust state court ruling, but would never violate a ruling from a federal judge because the federal system was the greatest ally for the members of the movement.
- Richard: On the other hand, Martin Luther King, Jr. also stated in his letter from Birmingham Jail: "Justice too long delayed is justice denied" helps to answer the question of what [greater] potential negative consequence of civil disobedience in a democratic society. The opportunity may have passed for the right time to act. Other consequences include lack of planning, misunderstanding of the problem, a backlash from the majority that counteracts the initial disobedience. Or on the most simple level the action just does not work.