The American identity is deeply embedded in the notion of independence, individuality, and self-reliance. The origins of the American individualism can be found in history or legacy of dissent. The cowboy portrays an image of the maverick that fights in the name of justice and freedom. American identity is deeply inspired and influenced by the notion that Americans are rebels. Among the notable American dissenters include Anne Hutchinson, Nat Turner and his followers, Wovoka, and Martin Luther King Junior (Anne 56). Anne Hutchinson was a maverick who fought tirelessly for women rights and gender equality. This made her to be regarded as a religious dissident. The Nat Turner insurrection was a slaves uprising that threatened the whites so much that they considered easing their oppression of the slaves. The insurrection inspired the oppressed to press on with their demands to be free. Wovoka was a Native American who led an organized opposition aimed liberating the Native Americans, and has their land returned to them as an assurance of eternal prosperity and peace. He claimed that the apocalypse was to return soon and destroy the White man. He inspired his followers by way of teaching them certain rituals that were meant to appease their forefathers. In the 60s Martin Luther King Junior served as an icon of dissent (Anne 56). There have been rebellion in other parts of the world too, for example, that by a Christian evangelical religious group from Switzerland called Mennonites which emerged among other groups to quest for the Protestant Reformation.
Oppressed people in the United States have been inspired by religion to demand political reforms. This is why every liberation leader has some religious doctrines in his calls for uprising. Among these liberation leaders was Nat turner, who claimed to have been inspired by god to fight against slavery. He led several insurrections some of which ended tragically. The white while slave owners used to suppress the slaves using harsh method, but this did not deter their quest of freedom. The slaves created fear among the slave owners by inflicting heavy casualties on them. Wovoka in the same spirit was fighting against white oppression of the Native American (Harper et al). He too claimed spiritual command in his quest for freedom of the Native Americans. Religious leaders and dissenters were inspired to revolt and rebel against the injustice of the existing system. Oppressed people usually look up to God for salvation and solution to the injustices they endure. Religion promises better future where there will be eternal peace and harmony, and it is this justice and equality that the oppressed keep hoping for. However, even on matters of religion, the oppressed finds it difficult to intermingle with their oppressors. This is the factor that leads to proliferation of religious institutions.
Methods Used in Expressing Dissent
There are various methods that are used by dissenters to express their dissatisfaction. The methods used depend on the aim of the dissension and methods that those in authority use to suppress it. Anne Hutchinson’s method was preaching what she thought would ensure justice for all. Her target included religious authorities as well as political leaders. To suppress views like hers, she was banished from the territory after a trial in which she faced a lot of condemnation from both religious leaders and secular leaders. Nat Turner’s method was more militant than peaceful speeches. He probably chose this method to scare away the harsh slave owners. Martin Luther taught a non-violent method of asking for reforms (Julia). However, he died violently in a manner that he always discouraged his followers to abstain from. Wovoka’s method emphasized on rituals which he and his followers believe would appease the forefathers who would enable them regain their land.
Some forms of expressing dissidence are radical and sometimes tragic. These modes of expression are noted with people having strong conviction that the happenings of the time are wrong and have to be stopped through whatever means. For example, when a Tibetan Buddhist monk set himself on fire, he wished to intensify the rebellion among the Tibetans against the Chinese regime. The acts of setting oneself on fire also used to take place in Vietnam during the war as the Buddhist wished to express dissent the American involvement in the war. The Greeks expresses dissent by attacking police officers with rocks to protest the implementation of government policies they view as oppressive.
The above examples are illustrations of the methods used to express dissent. Broadly, dissent refers to the range of religious and political behaviors that involve the use of non-governmental channels to air opposition to the decisions and values of the government, or its inaction. Most regimes regard dissenting voices as either unjustified or illegal. Although the majority of regimes in the world allows for political opposition, there are others that incriminate any act of criticism. To maintain tight control on the citizens, the regimes apply tight controls on political and religious activities and ensure the contents of publications and broadcasts favors their views. During the last century, several governments in the world have suppressed dissent using various methods. Among the countries whose regimes have suppressed dissent in the recent past are Spain, Chile, Syria, China, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Guinea, Iran, Ethiopia, and Egypt.
In the American religious history, dissent has played a key role in the evolution and development of American politics. In this essay will analyze William Billings who was a self trained musician who through his work, he inspired the American Revolution. Among the most commonly known compositions are “When Jesus Wept,” “David's Lamentation,” and “Chester”. These patriotic texts represented the unofficial national anthems during the Revolution. They have remained famous even after Billings’s death on 26th September, 1800. An example of another person who inspired political changes artistically was Ernest Bloch (1880-1959). It is evident that a clear distinction between religion and politics does not exist. The two influences each other and they are difficult to tell apart. This is why we find that Anne Hutchinson, Nat turner, Wovoka, and the Mennonites, were all inspired by their religious view to reform and change politics. In this regard, a person like Anne Hutchinson was seen as a religious dissenter. Nat turner made Christianity given to him by the whites into an empowering force for the blacks.
Dissent has made a tremendous impact on the course of American identity. Among the notable instances is the rise of the puritans, the spread of the doctrine of individuality which mostly results from rebellion. The American people learnt from and emulated the Mavericks and other movements that have taught them to be risk takers. Today’s Americans form of democracy allows for questioning of the authority. Some sections of the American people use art as a method to express dissent, for example, the use of rap music, punk music, and heavy metal.
African American dissented racism and this made them start programs to desegregate the libraries, schools, and cafeterias. These programs were based on the idea of peaceful dissent. Their peaceful dissent was in part inspired by Gandhi’s movement of non-violent resistance. While Nat Turner’s revolt which was inspired by his religious frenzy ended up turning violent, the 1960s civil rights movements based on and remained non-violent resistance.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King were considering Nat Turner’s example as proof that violent resistance is counter-productive. While Nat Turner used his religious dissent, to make Christianity into a violent ideology, Martin Luther King used Christianity to promote the idea of Non-violent Resistance. Unlike Anne Hutchinson or Nat Turner, Martin Luther King did not claim to have a direct contact with God. So he was a religious radical in neither the spirit of Puritans, nor even that of Wovoka. Unlike Wovoka, Marti Luther King never promoted the idea of frenzied dance to Chants of death to the white. Martin Luther King Jr. instead of turning Christianity into a force of violence, used it more like the dissenters during WWI; namely to promote peaceful resistance. Martin Luther King resembled the religious dissenters of WWI who opposed the War on the principle that Jesus Christ was a pacifist (August 1, 2011). Taking the teaching of Jesus, they believed in “the brotherhood of man” Spelman girls’ dissent, the sit-in strike, as well as the Freedom Rider tour demonstrated the powers of non-violence resistance. Dissension has enables blacks and whites to live as equals regardless of the fact that the white people are wealthier than the blacks. This eliminated the idea of separate schools, libraries, restaurants, and toilets. These improvements started when the black leaders in the 1950 began to push for desegregation. The first major movement of desegregation was carried out by the Spelman girls (Harper et al). Students became actively involved in the project of desegregating the Atlanta public libraries.
America has been dealing with dissent in various ways. Considering the First World War, America was in depression; and the American private banks had loaned a lot of money to England and France. Moreover, there were lots of dissenting voices. These factors forced President Woodrow Wilson to indicate that he opposed the war though he knew that in reality, America has to enter the war one way or another. His government passed various laws to counter dissent. These laws included the Conscription and the Espionage Acts of 1917 (Jacobs). The Espionage Act was meant to hunt German spies in America, but it was instead used to censor the critics of the war. All those who were critical of the war were incarcerated under the Espionage Act. The government also suspended constitutional rights during the war, incriminated publications, imposed the Implemented the Conscription act, and encouraged Citizen Vigilantes (Anne 56). The government also censored the Mennonites who were members of a German religious group that had settled in America in the 19th century following religious persecutions at home. They had hoped to settle in America to enable them to freely practice their religion. They had settled in various locations in America like Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma. These jurisdictions had to put them under tight control in order to minimize chances of dissent (Peter 222). Molokans was another dissident religious group whose members did not believe in killing. They too had to be tightly censored for reasons that the government called “public security”. By the end of the war, many of the Mennonites, Molokans, and the Dukhobors had been arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. However, today’s America is a free society where people freely air their views on a variety of issues. People are no longer imprisoned or punished for expressing dissent through peaceful means.