A Pathfinder For the Rebel in all of Us



"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong,
gives it a superficial appearance of being right,
and rallies at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom"
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine(1776)

"Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst
prosperity--but might it not better be called a glaze above deeply felt
anxieties about their role in the new world? And if these anxieties produce a
developed indifference to human affairs, do they not as well produce a
yearning to believe that there is an alternative to the present, that something
can be done to change circumstances in the school, the workplaces, the bureaucracies,
the government?" - Port Huron Statement by Students for a Democratic Society (1962)


When the large social and political movements in history are studied it is often difficult for the contemporary individual to comprehend why a particular conflict was so difficult to overcome. We more enlightened individuals often believe that we would naturally find ourselves on the side of the just and right. The American Revolution, fight for women's suffrage, civil rights movement; all events that we see as obvious issues of human rights that would not be tolerated by our modern society. In the events mentioned and a myriad of others, individuals decided that they could no longer tolerate the actions of the governing institution and chose to speak out against a perceived injustice. What causes individuals and groups to determine that their governing institutions are in such error that it must be changed? Why are these individuals and groups willing to sacrifice everything they possess to challenge the state? How do individuals even have a chance of being heard? These are issues that have been examined throughout history. The act of dissent seems so commonplace to us now that it is often ignored or used for its image rather than its power. Dissent is a practice of self-realization of many individuals, and even more important, a crucial institution for challenging unjust hierarchies and for promoting progressive change. Used wisely it can move mountains.

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The intention of this Pathfinder is to provide a diverse introduction to dissent. Using a variety of materials the interested reader will discover various aspects of dissent including philosophy, history, and current issues, to best see where dissent fits in a complicated world. It is intended for any reader who is curious about how and why people get to the point where they feel the need to raise their voice in protest. Although intended for all readers, it will be of most benefit to undergraduate students who are beginning to realize some of the complexities inherent in any political institution and are eager to examine them more closely.

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The nature of the topic makes it difficult to find useful information without looking in a variety of places. The following Library of Congress subject headings may be useful when searching for sources. They can be especially useful when searching online catalogs since it is often possible to follow subject links directly to pertinent information.

Civil rights--United States
Dissenters-- Civil rights
Dissenters--United States--History--Sources
Freedom of speech--United States
Government --Resistance to
Political participation--United States
Radicalism--United States
Social movements
Social reformers--United States--History--Sources
United States--Politics and government

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It is often useful to search an entire area of the library stacks to find information that relates to your subject. The following Library of Congress Call Numbers will be useful in looking for articles related to dissent.

E183-E183.3 - American Political History
HN1-HN981- Social History, Problems and Reforms
JC11- JC607 - Political Theory, Theory of the State
JK1700- 2250 - Political Rights, Practical Politics
KF4700-KF4900 - United States Law, Individual and State

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All the resources found in this pathfinder are available in or can be accessed from the following locations:

Walter Davis Library
House Undergraduate Library
Nonprint Library

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Reference tools such as encyclopedias and guides provide both an excellent starting point, as well as quick information that may provide background, extraneous information and often currency for any inquiry. The sources listed below will provide the user with relevant information about dissent.

Dicanio, Margaret B. Encyclopedia of American activism:1960 to the present. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1998
Davis Library Reference Stacks- JK1764 .D53 1998

This encyclopedia focuses on the people, events, organizations, and issues associated with activist movements in the last three decades. The articles range from several paragraphs to several pages and contain cross-references and brief lists of references. A comprehensive bibliography appears at the end along with a helpful subject index. There are also black-and-white photographs throughout the text.

Buhle, Mari Jo, Buhle, Paul, and Georgakas, Dan. ed. Encyclopedia of the American Left. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1998.
Davis Library Reference Stacks
Undergraduate Library Reference Stacks- HX86 .E58 1998 c.2

A comprehensive reference book on radicalism in the United States from the Civil War to the present, Focusing on radicals rather than reformers this encyclopedia provides information about topics that are little known since until recently very little information had been gathered on the American Left. Treated unfavorably for much of history, there are very few accounts of radicals that are not negative and filled with government-sponsored propaganda. This encyclopedia does a good job of remedying that situation.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. The Encyclopedia of Democracy. Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc. 1995.
Davis Library Reference Stacks
Undergraduate Library Reference Stacks- JC423 .E53 1995

In this encyclopedia can be found an excellent article on dissidents in those countries where authoritarian regimes rule. It is a good balance to many of the other texts, which look at issues of dissent within a democracy, most explicitly the United States. By providing a comparison the reader can see how the different governing systems each deal with issues of protest and control. While this is a particular strength, this encyclopedia is also useful in expanding on many of the political ideas touched on in many of the other texts.

Arnold, Guy. ed. Revolutionary and Dissident Movements: an International Guide. Detroit:
Gale Research, 1991.
Davis Library Reference Stacks- JC328.3 .D43 1991

This reference work provides a survey of political opposition movements throughout the world. It provides factual and objective accounts of the history and goals of significant movements be they violent or non-violent. Although it is possibly a bit out of date, the reader will quickly realize that few movements seeking political change are only short-term. Real change takes time and is faced with opposition every step of the way.

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The most detailed account of issues concerning dissent will be covered by the texts found in this section. All of these titles deal with various areas of dissent. The texts here are quite good at providing historical examples and contexts, philosophical inquiries into the role of dissent, methodology of successful dissent and some of the reasons why people feel the need to protest against the status quo. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, it should provide the interested reader with a number of titles that will assist them in better understanding how and why dissent can be an effective tool of social and political change.

Frank, Tom and Weiland, Matt. Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos From The Baffler. New York:
W.W. Norton, 1997.
Davis Library Stacks- E169.04 .C684 1997

What makes this text so important is how enjoyable and fun it is to read. The authors provide ample evidence that the rebel image, so important to many pseudo-protesters has been thoroughly and completely bought and resold by corporate America, and therefore have little relevance to any real form of dissent. A good primer for anyone who is interested in getting beyond style to the real substance that has caused so many to protest the perceptions presented by mainstream media and culture.

Fortas, Abe. Concerning Dissent and Civil Disobedience. New York: Meridian Books, 1968.
Davis Library Stacks- KF4750 .F6 c.2

The author was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court when he wrote this short, but useful text about the need for dissent in a free society. He attempts to reconcile his belief in obedience to law and his equally basic need to disobey the laws. The text looks at one of the most crucial issues of dissent: whether violence is essential and lawlessness necessary- or whether it is possible that effective alternatives exist. A very short book, it packs into a few pages issues that have been confronting those concerned with civil disobedience for a long time.

Young, Alfred F. ed. Dissent: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism. DeKalb:
Northern Illinois Press, 1968.

Davis Library Stacks- E183.9 .Y6

This text gives the interested reader a thorough look at the history of dissent and radicalism in the United States.
Starting with an essay on the importance of the Declaration of Independence as a manifesto of dissent it traces the ebb and flow of social movements. Some of the topics discussed are the abolitionists of pre-civil war, Christians at the turn of the 20th century, Labor movements and the numerous racial, class and identity political conflicts of more current times.

Carter, Stephen L. The Dissent of the Governed. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Davis Library Stacks- JC328 .C27 1998 c.1

According to this text, the extent to which government allows for dissent is the key to citizen allegiance to that government. If dissenters' grievances are persistently ignored, than dissent and rebellion are than justifiable. The author thinks a perceived liberal perspective within the corridors of power is currently testing many religious citizens' allegiance. This text illustrates how social issues can play important roles in the development of political movements dissatisfied with the current status of government at both the local and federal level.

Shiffrin, Steven H. Dissent, Injustice and the Meanings of America. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1999.
Davis Library Stacks- KF4772.S448 1999 c.2

The author sets out to demonstrate how dissent is a critical ideal by arguing for its promotion because it is crucial as a core American value: the right to free speech. The text explains why the major government institutions wrongly limit dissent. It offers suggestions on how society and the law should change to encourage nonconformity. It also raises implications of controversial topics of current constitutional debate such as flag burning, war protesting, racist speech, and many others. The author shows that a dissent-based approach would offer strong protection for free speech and emphasizes the social functions of dissent. While a little more complex than some of the other texts, its' currency and force of argument make it an important contribution to a look at issues of dissent.

Hunt, John Gabriel, ed. The Dissenters: America's Voices of Opposition. New York: Gramercy Books, 1993.
Davis Library Stacks- E183 .D57 1993

This collection of writing features essays about the rights of the American Colonists, the abolition of slavery, women's rights, social and economic justice, and many others. All of the essays were written by those actually faced with the decision to protest situations which they found unacceptable. It is a valuable source for seeing the writings of those who were challenging the status quo even as they are aware of the possible repercussions of their actions.

Euchner, Charles C. Extraordinary Politics. Boulder: Westview Press, 1996.
Davis Library Stacks- JK1764 .E93 1996 c.1

Protest and dissent are responsible for changing many of the patterns in American democracy. This text provides a history ofmovements of dissent, and draws examples from social-movements spanning many ideological backgrounds to create a cohesive study of changing political activism and the possible impact it may have on democracy.

Denisoff, R. Serge. ed. The Sociology of Dissent. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. , 1974.
Davis Library Stacks- HN90.R3 D49

This book is intended to be an introduction to the sociological aspects of dissent. Written just after the social and political turmoil of the sixties the various essays look at a number of issues with an eye towards their being an enduring problem. The text looks at theories, methods, issues raised by both a radical left and right, revolutions and problems of state repression.

Grover, William F. and Peschek, Joseph G. ed. Voices of Dissent: Critical Readings in American Politics.
New York: Harper Collins, 1993.
Davis Library Stacks- JK21.V65 1993 c.1

Claiming to be "the only reader on the market that fundamentally challenges the political and economic status quo in America." this title is intended as an introduction to critical perspectives of American politics. The tension between capitalism and democracy is a recurrent theme as is the effects of mass media, and the dynamics of race, religion and class. It attempts to expose the reader to dissatisfaction with the norm that for many registers daily.

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These reference tools allow the user to search a vast number of journals by simple keyword or subject searches. They are most useful when searching for academic journals and excel at providing the necessary features (keywords, abstracts, etc.) to make quick searches possible. All of the sources listed are available through the UNC main library page(http://www.lib.unc.edu/) or by the links provided. From the main library page look for the link to E indexes and databases( http://eresources.lib.unc.edu/eid/ ) Here the user is able to select adequate databases, provide the necessary information, review results, view the abstract and determine if the article fits their intended use.

http://ersources.lib.unc.edu.eid/> -select Geobase

Provided via OCLC FirstSearch, this database has provided information on geography, ecology, and other related disciplines. Since many of the issues of dissent around the world have a geographical component to them, (i.e. Palestinian-Israel conflict) it can be a useful tool when trying to understand the full scope of many of the important conflicts currently taking place in the world.

Political Science Abstracts
http://ersources.lib.unc.edu.eid/> - select political Science Abstracts

Provided via Silverplatter this database provides information found in professional journals and other text-based news sources. Topics covered include political policies, theory, and practice as well as issues of international law and economics.

PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service) International
<http://ersources.lib.unc.edu.eid/> - select PAIS (Public Affairs Information Service) International

Provided via Silverplatter PAIS is a bibliographic index to the literature of public policy, social policy, and the social sciences in general. Covering information from 1972 until the present it is useful in finding journal articles on dissent as they pertain to international as well as national issues.

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While more academic journals provide deeper analysis and research, the strength of commercial media is their coverage of and response to current issues. While there are numerous periodicals containing articles about the current political climate the following are some of the more popular ones. Each of them makes a point of looking at current political events with a critical perspective. They can all be found in the Periodical Reading Room at Davis Library. Back issues are bound and can be found in the Davis Library stacks using theLC Call Numbers listed below.

American Prospect. Princeton: New Prospect Inc, 1990-(quarterly).
E838 .A54

The American Prospect is a Biweekly magazine of policy and culture. Writing from a progressive perspective, this periodical aims to "contribute to a renewal of America's democratic traditions by presenting a practical and convincing vision of liberal philosophy, politics, and public life." Written for the broadly educated reader The American Prospect tries to avoid both technical jargon and sloganeering while attempting to influence the debate in the corridors of Washington, the offices of corporate America, and the living rooms of private citizens across the nation.

Dissent. New York: Dissent Publishing Corporation, 1954-(quarterly).
HX1 .D58

Dissent has been published as a quarterly journal since 1954. Originally considered a journal for Communist thought in the United States it has over the years been transformed into more of a Social-Democrat journal. Ensuring that the voice of the left is heard, the editors of Dissent are most concerned with issues of social suffering, and racial, class and gender discrimination. Dissent tries to focus on the complex questions about how to fashion a deeply democratic society in our social and economic structures as well as our political ones.

The Nation. New York: J.H. Richards, 1865-(weekly).
AP2 .N2

A weekly magazine that has been published consistently since 1865, The Nation has long been considered one of America's premier progressive periodicals. The editors have always strived to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to consistently question the use of violence, deceit, and power, which many of the nations governing institutions seem to feel is their right. The number of important, progressive thinkers who regularly contribute to the pages of this periodical make it a must read for any would be dissenter.

Weekly Standard. New York: News America Publishing Inc, 1995-(weekly).
AP2 .W44

In many ways this periodical is the conservative movements answer to The Nation. Begun in 1995, the intention of this weekly periodical is to cast a critical eye on the halls of power in Washington DC from a specifically conservative point of view. Better written than most political weeklies, it is an important periodical for those on the right who find themselves dissatisfied not only with the "liberal media" but also with those who have betrayed conservative values. It is a refreshingly cant free periodical pointing out areas of criticism within the Republican Party as well as the Democratic.

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As in so many other aspects of our lives, the internet has become a vital tool in delivering opinion and criticism to a wide audience. Because dissent is so often based on the frustrations of not being heard by those in positions of control the web has played a critical role in allowing people across the world to communicate their ideas and criticisms to one another. This in turn has led to an increasing number of grass-roots movements ready to communicate with all those interested and engage in heated debate with those that would rather they go away. Below are just a few of the numerous sites that can be used to locate other sources, get answers, and stimulate debate.

Common Dreams News Center

Common Dreams is a national non-profit organization that seeks to use the internet as a political organizing tool. Providing an eclectic mix of information about politics, social issues and breaking news Common Dream is concerned with offering progressive perspectives that are increasingly hard to find in our corporate-dominated media. This site provides links to a variety of progressive web sites and authors who share the vision of the volunteers at this site. It is a great resource for activists to find information and other people who share their concerns.


MoveOn is committed to broadening voter participation to counter the influence of wealthy special interest groups and the extremes of partisan politics. Intent on making the internet a tool for public outcry Moveon builds electronic advocacy groups for specific issues. Begun during the impeachment trial of President Clinton, Moveon has also tackled issues campaign finance, environmental issues, and recently concerns about war profiteering. Moveon uses an informal grass roots advocacy to help Congress and other government institutions come to understand the depth of public opposition to various issues.


Every year, thousands of Americans witness wrongdoing on the job. Some speak out. But rather than receive praise for their integrity, these brave whistleblowers are often targeted for harassment, intimidation, demotion, and dismissal. In 1977, the non-profit Government Accountability Project was created to help these employees, who, through their individual acts of conscience, protect each and everyone of us. This Website provides information for those who are willing to take action into their own hands as well as for those who want information about governmental misconduct.


Run by the editors of Z magazine this website provides interested readers with articles written by some of the most renowned critics of the status quo. Links are provided to articles ranging from discussions of current events to some of the more intractable problems facing the world. Although mostly text based there are also a number of audio and video files as well as user forums in which specific topics are open for discussion.

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Film can be a wonderful venue for displaying a lot of information in a coherent manner in a short amount of time. While rarely considered as important a research tool as the other formats on this page, a good film can bring a subject to life using sight and sounds in a way unattainable by other mediums. Films are available at in the Nonprint section of the Undergraduate Library

Achbar, Mark and Wintonick, Peter. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the media. New York:
Zeitgeist Films, 1992

UL NonPrint 65-V4863

Although this film is about the linguist and well-known dissenter Noam Chomsky he is never considered more important than his insights into the way print and electronic journalism further the agendas of the powerful. The film-makers show how public outcry is kept at bay since dissenting opinions, expressed in the media, act as a limit beyond which one would be considered a crackpot radical, and therefore not to be taken seriously. Many examples are shown of how someone as eloquent and well informed as Chomsky is himself kept cornered in the fringe by a controlling and center-at-all-costs media. The second half of the film provides useful information on where dissenting information can be found and how protest can be successful.

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This pathfinder was compiled by William Durland

a student in the School of Information and Library Science
at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Created Dec 3, 2001

any questions or comments please contact durland@email.unc.edu

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