In California, a San Diego citizen who pruned overgrown shrubs on public property adjacent to his because they had become a popular place for homeless people to sleep and leave their litter behind was charged with a felony for “defacement, damage and destruction” in excess of $400.

In Florida, an Orlando couple who planted an “edible garden” in their front yard was told they would be fined $500 a day because growing food in their front yard violated city ordinances.

In the California example, a government agency didn’t do its job, a citizen decided to do it for the sake of the community (and his own sake), and the government charged the citizen with a crime. Citizens were enraged and negative sentiment toward government was reinforced, in my opinion.

What’s not clear, though, is whether the citizen brought the issue to the attention of the appropriate city agency and his city council member before taking matters into his own hands. If he did contact the right people in government but they were unresponsive, it appears that he did not then take the issue to the press and/or citizen advocacy organizations. Regardless, civil disobedience was the course of action he chose to take.

The thinking behind the San Diego and Florida government actions was voiced this way by Stockton California’s Deputy District Attorney Steve Hahn: “You have to have order in society, and that’s the purpose of the laws… Self-help is not the appropriate way to handle problems.”

Of course, we don’t know what else Mr. Hahn might have said in his newspaper interview that was not included in the article. However, his quote as it stands disregards the reason nonviolent civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country: sometimes it’s the only viable strategy for correcting dysfunctional government policies, unresponsiveness, or ineptitude.

In the Orlando example, the couple chose the civil disobedience route. They violated a city ordinance that, it seems to me, runs contrary to the mission statement that’s embedded in the United States Constitution’s Preamble: our government is required to be a servant to its citizens (not to itself or to special interests), and it’s mandated to do this by governing at the intersection of preserving individual freedom and promoting the common good.

Once the long arm of the law came down on the Orlando couple, they captured press coverage, which led to support from useful activist organizations, and the Patriot Gardens movement they spawned has successfully pressured the Orlando City Council to vote on changing their landscape ordinance to permit edible landscaping. In other words, the couple’s civil disobedience may have created sufficient public outcry to force positive changes Orlando’s landscaping ordinances. We’ll know for sure once the City Council votes on December 9, 2013 (assuming they don’t delay their vote).

Consider these questions:

  • What percentage of “We the People” do you believe have forgotten that this is how our country is designed to work?
  • What percentage of citizens know that our founders created a government that was mandated to function in integrity with our country’s mission statement?
  • What percentage of citizens understand that the constitution’s framers also knew that the government would always be at risk of not doing this because of the huge complexities inherent in creating policies that align individual freedom and the common good?
  • What percentage of citizens realize that this is why they built in a two-part backup plan for when the government almost inevitably got off track? That backup plan empowered citizens to vote into public office new representatives who are more responsive to the will of the people, AND it crafted citizen rights in a way allows us to engage in civil disobedience when that’s what it’s going to take to create sufficient public pressure to cause our representatives to do the right thing.

In light of this, here’s my message to Stockton Deputy District Attorney Steve Hahn, the San Diego District Attorney’s office, and Orlando’s City Council: laws, regulations and ordinances are supposed to be servants to America’s Mission Statement (to preserve individual freedom AND promote the common good), and when this isn’t the case, “self-help” (as Steve Hahn called it) is indeed an appropriate citizen response.

And here’s my message to my fellow citizens:

  • It’s time that we require our public servants to demonstrate their understanding of this before they are entrusted with serving citizens.
  • It’s time for us to pressure the media to take responsibility for consistently educating citizens about this.
  • It’s time for us to start expecting educational institutions to teach this to our next generation of citizens.
  • And, most of all, it’s time for “We the People” to end the “learned helplessness” spell we’ve fallen under during the past 50 years. We’re not big brother’s victims: we’re citizens in one of the most sophisticated and empowering forms of government this planet has ever seen.
May more and more of us behave this way more and more of the time from now on.

A clinical & organizational development psychologist and integrity expert, one of the books Dr. David Gruder has authored won six awards for its comprehensive blueprint to restore personal, relationship, business, leadership, and societal integrity. Hailed by the media as “America’s Integrity Expert,” Dr. Gruder provides keynotes, training, consultations, and media interviews worldwide on all aspects of integrity. For more about Dr. Gruder’s “Integrity Stimulus Plan” visitwww.IntegrityStimulusPlan.orgYou can contact Dr. Gruder to arrange speaking, training, consulting engagements, or media interviews via