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A space for resources to help RE teachers and their students explore the Christian faith

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Passive Resistance

Passive resistance is the non-violent opposition to authority, often involving a refusal to obey the law. A classic example of this is the pacifists who were unwilling to fight during the two world wars of the 20th century. The law required them to fight, but because of their belief in non-violence, they refused to.

Passive resistance can also include forms of civil disobedience, where ordinary citizens refuse to co-operate with the authorities and laws. The early 20th-century suffragettes, protesting for women's rights, held demonstrations in major cities in the United States and Great Britain. Some even participated in hunger strikes.


The Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement took place in 1950s and 1960s America. Led by Martin Luther King, the movement was committed to ending the desegregation rules which divided the nation by the colour of peoples' skin. During this time, people who supported the movement were involved in many forms of passive resistance, including:
  • Sit-ins: African Americans, along with their white friends, would sit in restaurants that they were banned from because of their skin colour.
  • Boycotts: People refused to use certain shops or services which had segregation rules. For example, many of the people in Montgomery, Alabama, boycotted the buses,1955-1956; people simply walked everywhere in protest. The Mongtomery bus boycott lasted just over a year, before the company was forced to change its rules as it couldn't afford to run without its customers.
  • Freedom rides: These were protests against segregation, which involved African Americans and white people riding buses together throughout the American South in 1961. This was against the law at the time.
  • Protests: Organised and attended by all races, these protests were non-violent in nature. Even when people were being attacked, they refused to respond with violence.
  • Protest marches: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was where Luther King gave his famous 'I Have a Dream...' speech.


Insulate Britain

A more recent example of passive resistance in the UK is the 2021 Insulate Britain protests. These were organised in response to the group's perception of the government's lack of action around climate change. Members of the group protested in the middle of some of the busiest UK roads, stopping all traffic from passing through. During one incident, some superglued themselves to the M25, causing huge problems for hundreds of commuters. You can read more about their activities here.

To find out about divergent Christian views on passive resistance, click here.