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Civil disobedience now comes with a $250K reward

The MIT Media Lab is holding a competition to reward dissenters, disrupters and rule breakers.

A sign from an anti-Trump protest at the White House in Washington in November 201Reuters

Galileo, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.

They were all considered “rule breakers” of their time, initially punished for their beliefs but ultimately celebrated as trail-blazing heroes.

Now, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab wants to honor the next generation of rule breakers with a $250,000 “Disobedience Award.”

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, who is a member of the Media Lab’s advisory council, donated the cash prize, which is intended to attract nominees from around the globe.

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The new award will go to an individualor groupwho engages in “extraordinary disobedience for the benefit of society.” Nominees for the award can be from the U.S. or anywhere in the world, but must adhere to the principles of “non-violence, creativity, courage and taking responsibility for one’s actions.”

“Questioning authority and thinking for yourself is an essential component of science, of civil rights, of society,” MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito said in a video announcing the competition. “At some level, disobedience is at the root of this creativity.”

The cash prize comes at a particularly relevant time in the U.S., given the current political climate. Since the election of President Donald Trump, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest his travel ban, his administration's stance on climate change, science and healthcare, as well as his personal statements on women.

Inspiration for the prize, conceived of last year, was more a reaction to global unrest and division than a direct answer to Trump, said Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab.

He noted recent instances of disobedience, “from government officials defying orders from the White House, to President Trump's very campaign, which could be thought of as disobedient to existing and established political orders.” But those weren’t directly connected to the award, he said.

The individuals whose principled positions helped inspire the award include the Pakistani women’s rights advocate MalalaYousafzai, the Russian rock group and activists Pussy Riot, and the Chinese artist and dissident, Ai Weiwei.

Located on the MIT campus, the Media Lab also welcomed nominees involved in science, culture, politics or other areas — as long as they find a “fundamental issue on which they must act.” On its website, it offers up 21 people through history who serve as examples of courageous dissenters.

The lab, like the award, is a little unconventional. The research and design institution has used video, holography, electronic music, graphic design and cognition technology tostudy the way people think, express, and communicate ideas, and explore new scientific frontiers.

Nominations, which can be made online, opened this week, andwill be accepted through May 1. The winner will be announced in July.

 
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