Executive Orders And The Call For Civil Disobedience

Protests against the flood of executive orders emanating from the White House in the last week have given rise to spontaneous demonstrations, electronic petitions and a return of the practice of civil disobedience. For the U.S., this practice was fundamental in the country’s founding revolution.

The original Tea Party – held in Boston harbor on December 16, 1773 – targeted the all-mighty British East India Company, seizing its ships and dumping the contents (mostly tea grown by the British in India, to compete with the Chinese) into the water in a show of independence from the shackles of monopolistic, undemocratic rule. It was an important step in the colonies’ path to independence from England.

Today’s Tea Party is targeting not big business but big government as the core of what ails the U.S. today – following in the steps of John Adams (U.S. president no. 2) rather than Benjamin Franklin, who warned of despotism as he put pen to the Declaration of Independence.

There are no Franklin-style tea-partyers dumping Exxon Mobil’s oil anywhere today, but the tea partyers a la Adams are certainly in evidence in Washington. And they have let loose a worldwide surge of discontent, exercised as civil disobedience. defines civil disobedience as “the refusal to obey certain laws or governmental demands for the purpose of influencing legislation or government policy, characterized by the employment of such nonviolent techniques as boycotting, picketing, and nonpayment of taxes.”

These are, therefore, actions designed to counter leadership policies deemed unfit by a principled few – a dissenter’s modus operandi since being made popular by American philosopher-writer-transcendentalist (and civil disobedient) Henry David Thoreau.

Citizens Have A Duty

Writing in 1849 from his home in Massachusetts, Thoreau railed against what he believed was the inhumanity of slavery, claiming that individuals shouldn’t let governments “overrule or let atrophy their [the individual’s] conscience” and that citizens have “a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence.” The original article was entitled “Resistance to Civil Government,” published in the magazine Aesthetic papers; we know it better in the collection of Thoreau’s works published posthumously in 1866 under the general title “Civil Disobedience.” It’s the sort of work one reads in history or civics classes in high school, but its relevance may be lost on those who are younger than the voting age of 18.

It should also be noted that Thoreau had it in for government in general – his most famous line, often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson – was “That government is best which governs least.” A bit of a contrarian, Thoreau spent time alone “On Walden Pond” and – and also spent some time in jail for refusing to pay the poll tax (“head tax”) for at least six years, by his own admission.

Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared on Forbes and is featured here with Author Permission.


Shellie Karabell
Shellie Karabell
Shellie Karabell has spent more than 40 years in international broadcast journalism, including executive news and management positions in her native USA, Europe, the USSR/Russia and the Middle East for ABC News/WTN, Dow Jones Broadcast, PBS, AP Broadcast and CNBC, responsible for news coverage, bureau management, and budgets of several million dollars. She has specialized in business news since 1982, covering hundreds of tier-one international companies and executives. As a TV correspondent in Europe, her coverage included the release of the American hostages from Iran in 1981; the Pan Am 103 crash in Lockerbie, Scotland,1988; the civil war in Lebanon in 1983; the civil war in Yugoslavia in 1991-92, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She is a recognized expert on Russia, having started her coverage there in 1986 (including interviewing Boris Yeltsin and Edvard Shevardnadze) and continuing to the present day, and living/working in Moscow from 1996-1998 for ABC-WTN. Before moving to Europe in 1983, she was a chief news editor and field reporter for ABC Radio Network News in New York, and the business anchor for Satellite News Channel. From 2009-2013 she was Director of Media Relations and Editor-in-Chief of INSEAD Knowledge, the business school's online business magazine. Born in Philadelphia, PA, she has a BA in English from Pennsylvania State University and masters work in political science (Penn State) & Russian History (NYU) and lives in Paris.

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