“Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number —
Shake your chains to earth like few
Which in sleep had fallen on you —
Ye are many — they are few ”
Percy Byshee Shelley — The Masque of Anarchy
If one were to attempt to describe what today’s society looks like today it would be pedantic. Since the beginning of organized government we have been asked to trust in our officials, those put in charge by by us or by the gods. However, with all this trust allows a darker side to come out. With rampant corruption, theft, and bias within regimes, sometimes there is little belief yet. Which is exactly what leads to the rise of civil disobedience.
The exact definition of civil disobedience is an issue which scholars tend to disagree on. However, one characteristic of it is the uprising of the ordinary citizens against the officials who are meant to protect them. As portrayed in ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, the common man is capable of gathering in their numbers and calling for a change. Governments all over the world have mastered the skill of suppressing members of their population. But one common flaw is that the voice of the people always manages to come out in numbers, when they have a common leader and a common goal. So in a sense, civil disobedience can be defined as a form of organized chaos.
Although such events commonly occur all over the world, it is a rare thing to see on Zimbabwean streets. But now in the midst of a social media age, we are seeing ‘hashtag activism’ turn into actual social action by the people. In a sense, Zimbabweans have finally found their voices in a time when they are always overshadowed by their concerns being invalidated by those put into power to make their lives better. During the ‘#thisflag’ protests and ‘stay aways’, we have seen people taking their voice from behind the screens of devices and to the streets where they reclaim the pride of the Zimbabwean flag as their own. People from all walks of life came together, making it less of a political movement, and more of the reunification of Zimbabwe’s highly polarized society. Despite different social, economic and racial backgrounds they all rallied against a common adversary.
The beauty behind this action by the people was in showing the sheer strength of the Zimbabwean people, especially in numbers. Although this movement didn’t lead to any political revolution or regime change, it did lead Zimbabwe into a new era. An era which ends complacency and calls for something better for the future. We may not see any legitimate change for the next few years but the path has been cleared for new leaders to rise once the dust. from the chaos settles.
In situations in which the political climate is monopolized, civil disobedience can be a tool to bring back the voices and the concerns of the people themselves. Thoreau in ‘Civil Disobedience’ wrote “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation?… It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience”. Therefore in governments hearing the voices of the people, it is in a sense a reminder of the reason why they are there. The purpose of a government is to govern of course, but also to ensure that the people of their country, whether it is a majority group or a minority group, are able to have a good quality of life and can provide a future for the next generation. Which is why a ‘conscience’ is essential in the act of governing.
Thoreau ended his essay by saying “There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.” The potential of a nation is taken away when the voices of the people are neglected. Therefore when those in authority choose to hear those voices selectively, it leaves room for the rise of civil disobedience. The organized chaos becomes a powerful tool against the injustices placed on the people.