To dissent is to express a different opinion, or to challenge established beliefs or norms. In democracy, dissent is protected, so that there can be a free exchange of ideas and possible change and improvement. Read what some notables have written about dissent, in this collection of quotations.

No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.

— Barbara Ehrenreich

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

— Carl Sagan

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.

— Charles Evan Hughes

You have to have people who prick the consciences of the nation.

— Coretta Scott King

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.

— Edward R. Murrow

It may well be that our means are fairly limited and our possibilities restricted when it comes to applying pressure on our government. But is this a reason to do nothing? Despair is nor an answer. Neither is resignation. Resignation only leads to indifference, which is not merely a sin but a punishment

— Elie Wiesel

Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation.

— Eugene V. Debs

I abhorred slavery in every form. I yearned to see all men and all women free. I detested the idea of some men being ruled by others, and of women being ruled by men. I believed that women should have all the rights men have, and I looked upon child labor as a crime. And so I became an agitator and this ruling passion of my life found larger expression.

— Eugene V. Debs

If it had not been for the discontent of a few fellows who had not been satisfied with their conditions, you would still be living in caves.

— Eugene V. Debs

In case of dissension, never dare to judge till you’ve heard the other side.

— Euripides

You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun.

— Florynce Kennedy

All great truths begin as blasphemies.

— George Bernard Shaw

Disobedience, the rarest and most courageous of the virtues, is seldom distinguished from neglect, the laziest and commonest of the vices.

— George Bernard Shaw

Human beings have an inalienable right to invent themselves; when that right is pre-empted it is called brain-washing.

— Germaine Greer

What’s right with America is a willingness to discuss what’s wrong with America.

— Harry C. Bauer

I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.

— Henry David Thoreau

Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.

— Henry Steele Commager

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

— Howard Zinn

Historically, the most terrible things — war, genocide, and slavery — have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.

— Howard Zinn

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

— Hubert H. Humphrey

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.

— James Baldwin

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

— John F. Kennedy

I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.

— John Kerry

I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group.

— Lillian Hellman, letter to the US House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, 1952

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: The right to criticize. The right to hold unpopular beliefs. The right to protest. The right of independent thought.

— Margaret Chase Smith

Moral cowardice that keeps us from speaking our minds is as dangerous to this country as irresponsible talk. The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.

— Margaret Chase Smith

If the man doesn’t believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can’t burn him.

— Mark Twain

A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds.

— Mark Twain

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Non-cooperation is a measure of discipline and sacrifice, and it demands respect for the opposite views.

— Mohandas K. Gandhi

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

— Noam Chomsky

Some of my ancestors were religious dissenters who came to America over three hundred years ago. Others were abolitionists in New England in the eighteen forties and fifties.

— Pete Seeger

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost

Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak is yesterday’s nut that held its ground.

— Rosa Parks

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.

— Susan B. Anthony

To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform.

— Theodore H. White

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

— Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

The people cannot be all, and always well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive.

— Thomas Jefferson

I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories…. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.

— Thurgood Marshall

The cry has been that when war is declared, all opposition should be hushed. A sentiment more unworthy of a free country could hardly be propagated.

— William Ellery Channing

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

— William O. Douglas
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