This image is © J. McKenzie 2013
"I fight authority, Authority always wins."
John Mellencamp - Authority Song
When should any of us submit to authority and when should we challenge it?
These are difficult questions, since the answers almost always depend upon judgment and circumstances.
Schools, churches, businesses and many other groups foster compliance because it helps to keep things moving along smoothly. Dissent is messy, time-consuming and inefficient.
Having fostered compliant attitudes, some of these institutions have unwittingly set up the conditions to allow predatory behaviors to go unchallenged, unreported and unpunished. Even when reported, those in authority may act to cover up the abuses of their colleagues.
We like to think that authoritarian controls are limited to nations whose leaders ascribe to Marxist or fascist doctrines, but the truth is that many institutions or individuals in so-called free and democratic societies indulge in autocratic practices and behaviors.
Those in authority sometimes act in arbitrary and unfair ways that hurt those subject to their control.
It is for this reason that individuals may gather together for mutual support against the authorities (bosses) as was the case in the 1890s and earlier when labor unions in the U.S.A. formed to protect workers. Ironically, some of those unions then engaged in autocratic practices and behaviors.
This image is used with the permission of the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Department.
Challenging Jim Crow
Looking back at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, it is difficult to fathom the risks taken and the price paid by those who stood up to Jim Crow and refused to comply with the segregation laws of the times.
Brave men and women linked arms and ate at segregated lunch counters, drank from segregated water fountains and refused like Rosa Parks to sit at the back of the bus.
Some went to jail. Some were beaten. Others were lynched. Others were shot.
Challenging Authority in our own times
Most of us will be fortunate enough to avoid jail, beatings and lynchings. But most of us will face situations when someone in a position of authority makes a demand that is unreasonable. It may be our boss. It may be a teacher or a priest. Each time this happens we must ask if we will comply or resist. We must consider the costs of compliance and the price of dissent.
Dissent may cost us our jobs. Dissent may mean severe punishment by the teacher or the priest. Will each of us have the courage to stand tall in our own lives like Dr. Martin Luther King? like Rosa Parks?
| Standing Tall
by Jamie McKenzie
In honor of Martin Luther King
Some kings rule their kingdoms sitting down
Surrounded by luxury, soft cushions and fans
But this King stood strong
When the driver told Rosa
"Move to the back of the bus!"
When the waiter told students
"We don't serve your kind!"
When the Mayor told voters
"Your vote don't count!"
And when the sheriff told marchers
"Get off our streets!"
using fire hoses, police dogs and cattle prods
to move them along
This King stood strong
Speaking of peace
hand in hand
free at last
free at last
When some yelled for violence
For angry revenge
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
He stood his ground
And when some spit out hate
He stood there smiling
Until it rolled like the sea across the land
Sweeping away Jim Crow
Breaking down the walls
Ringing the bell
Standing on the mountain top
They shot him
Hoping to see him fall
Hoping to put him away
To bring him low
But this King
even in death
And we remember
by Jamie McKenzie
© 1982, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.