The main criticism leveled against the non-violence movement led by King (by critics such as those in the Black Power movement) was that it reinforced the stereotype of African-Americans as passive and meek. They argued that changing this perception required African-Americans to separate from whites and forge a more militant identity. King disagreed strongly with this analysis. In an interview, King said that “there is great deal of difference between nonresistance to evil and nonviolent resistance.” He pointed out that anyone who had been involved in the civil rights struggles would know that nonviolent resistance, far from being passive, was a strong, determined, and effective response to injustice.
He pointed out that violent resistance was futile because its ultimate goal, the total separation of blacks and whites in the US, was absurdly unrealistic. The power of the state was overwhelming and could brutally crush any serious challenge to its authority. If the general public, black and white, did not personally identify with the struggle for justice, then they would passively stand by while this power was unleashed to crush any opposition. He knew from the history of wars in general (and World War II and the Vietnam war in particular) that the general public would passively accept massive injustice and cruelty and horrific destruction on even innocent civilians unless they identified in some way with those at the receiving end of the violence. And the only way “that the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause” was if they themselves were touched by the struggle, at some deep level.
King argued that while some notable victories had been won by violence (for example, the American revolution among many independence struggles in former colonial countries), such models were not applicable to the civil rights struggle because “those fighting for independence have the purpose to drive out their oppressors.” King argued that blacks and whites had to live together in a post-racist US, and the only way they could do that with any sense of common community was if they joined together in the struggle to create such a society. And he saw a united, non-violent struggle as the way to get everyone involved.
It is this firm conviction in the power of non-violence as an effective strategy, coupled with a basic sense of generosity and fairness in his outlook, his desire to see the best in even those who opposed him, that was the key to his success as a coalition builder. He was always inclusive in his thinking, trying to find ways in which to form a common cause with those who shared his basic belief in justice and equality. But he could also be scathing in his appraisal of those with whom he felt he had nothing in common, and fierce in his denunciation of the few deep-rooted racists who could not be won over.
Martin Luther King was always conscious of the importance of trying to maintain balance between the tensions pulling in different directions. He said that “a strong man must be militant as well as moderate. He must be a realist as well as an idealist.” Even the subtitle of his book Chaos or Community shows his realization that the future of society lay in a delicate balance. King’s murder removed from our midst someone who could hold people and movements together while moving towards a common goal and thus take us towards community. While we have not quite reached chaos in his absence, there is an urgent and deep need for a new generation of leadership that can point us towards community again.
Martin Luther King seemed to draw his strength from two sources: his wide reading and scholarship, which enabled him to always place people and events in a deeper and more meaningful context; and his ability to see the best in people. After the march in Montgomery, observing the demonstrators who were crowded together in an airport terminal, he noted “As I stood with them and saw white and Negro, nuns and priests, ministers and rabbis, labor organizers, lawyers, doctors, housemaids and shopworkers brimming with vitality and enjoying a rare comradeship, I knew I was seeing a microcosm of the mankind of the future in this moment of luminous and genuine brotherhood.”
His vision of what a society should be and what must be done to achieve it is as relevant and vibrant as ever. His call to action is as compelling now as it was when he first made it.
POST SCRIPT: Get rich! Buy shares in this blog!
I stumbled upon this site which seems to mimic sites that track the share value of companies. Except that the “company” concerned is my blog!
The site calls itself the “fantasy blog stock market” and I imagine that it belongs to the same genre as fantasy football and fantasy baseball (neither of which I understand, by the way). The home page of this site seems to indicate that this is some sort of game in which the value of a blog is somehow determined by the incoming links, each player starts with B$500 (where B$ presumably stands for “blog dollars” and is play money), and you use your “money” to buy and sell shares in a blog depending on whether you think its value will go up or down.
According to this site, the share value of my blog rose from B$0.87 on May 4, 2005 to B$1.79 on November 21, 2005, which strikes me as an astounding rate of return, annualized to about 300%. Let’s see Google beat that.
My blog has a current “valuation” (whatever that means) of over B$11,000 and this also has been rising recently, although the graph showing this does not plot the scale of the x-axis, which is the kind of error that would cost you big in an introductory physics lab report.
Of course, past behavior is not an indicator of future performance, or whatever it is that mutual fund brochures insert in their disclaimer statements. So don’t hold me responsible if you buy shares and then the price tanks.