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 Vol 10|No4|April |2014

Questioning Authority

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)

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.

rosa parks

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
    stood proud
    stood tall

    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
    stood proud
    stood tall
    Speaking of peace
    of love
    and children
    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
    Preaching peace

    And when some spit out hate
    He stood there smiling
    Spreading love
    Until it rolled like the sea across the land
    Sweeping away Jim Crow
    Breaking down the walls
    Ringing the bell
    For Freedom

    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
    even today
    stands strong
    stands proud
    stands tall
    And we remember

by Jamie McKenzie

© 1982, Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.



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