What is it?
Civil disobedience has a long history as a form of protest and resistance. Literally it means to peacefully break a law. It can be done as a symbol or more directly. For example, a direct civil disobedience would be handing out clean needles to addicts to prevent the spread of HIV, in this case you are breaking the exact law you disagree with. On the other hand taking over an office at the School Board to draw attention to a bad policy is a symbolic civil disobedience because you don't mean to change the laws about trespassing, but you do want to get attention to the lack of AIDS education (or whatever your topic is). Different types of civil disobedience include breaking a specific law you object to, taking over an office, blocking traffic, basically any way of disrupting business as usual. Above all else, civil disobedience is non-violent. It is best when the CD can be seen as somehow connected to the issue you want to draw attention to, like when the civil rights activists did a sit-in to integrate a segregated lunch counter, or when students do a sit-in at a health official's office to demand better AIDS education policy.
Why do it?
Civil disobedience is a method to force change by drawing attention to a problem and influencing public opionion. Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King here in the United States are 2 of the famous figures from history who used civil disobedience to help make change. People often turn to CD when they feel very strongly about something, strong enough to put their body and freedom on the line. I say that because CD usually means doing something for which you might be arrested, which means you might not be home in time to watch your favorite programs on TV that night.
What are the ramifications?
It is always important to consult with a sympathetic lawyer when planning a civil disobedience. Find one who is open to the issue want to promote. The lawyer can give you suggestions on what the possible risks are, & what type of legal charges can be brought against you (i.e. trespassing, traffic violation, or even in some cases a felony charge). In our experience, people under 18 have a much easier time with the police, though they eill alert your parents if you are arrested so it is best to warn them in advance.
When to use civil disobedience
Civil disobedience often looks spontaneous at the time it happens, i.e. a bunch of people run out in the street and lay down in front of traffic, or walk into an office and take over. But it is far from spontaneous. It takes time to plan and think out all the results, work on the press contacts, make sure the cameras are there to document it, and that you have support people to follow you through the police system if you are arrested (what jail you go to, call your close relations, etc). It is not the first step you start with, but it is one of the most strong and extreme tactics because it really says something when you are willing to be arrested for something you believe in!
- Speak Outs
How to Organize an Action At Your School
ACT UP's Civil Disobedience Documents