A very happy MLK Monday to you all. I hear that there is some spectacle of pomp, power, ritualized violence, and safely quarantined content-less liberal admiration going on; which is too bad. Today should be a happy occasion. You can celebrate Disobey Day to-day by using your day off to celebrate the true legacy of the Freedom Movement, to forget the coronation ceremony, to break an unjust law, to tell an unpopular truth, or to disobey an illegitimate authority.
It seems to me that if the only way you can getofficial national hero typesis by oversimplifying, lying, and thus eviscerating the substance of a world-changing life of work and body of thought, then official national hero types are worth less than nothing. What interest do they serve, and what are we supposed to need them for?
Certainly not the interest of honesty, or truth, and it seems to me that in these times those are coins far rarer — and therefore far more dear — than the pompous deliveries of the cosseted clique of power-tripping politicians and professional blowhards, who have convinced themselves that their collective in-jokes, shibboleths and taboos constitute the public life of a nation. I don’t give much of a damn, in the end, whether or not King gets ritualistically name-checked by men and women who were or would have been his mortal enemies to make stentorian speeches supposedly on his behalf. What I give a damn about is what the man, for all his many faults, actually cared about, fought for, and died for: the struggle of ordinary men and women for their own freedom, which meant their struggle to defy, resist, or simply bypass the consolidated violence of the belligerent power-mongers and the worse-than-useless moderate hand-wringers who made their living peddling excuses, apologetics, and the endless counsel ofwait, wait.
This, not public-school pageants andofficial national hero types,is what the vast majority of us, who get no profit from the fortunes of the political-intellectual complex and its pantheon, need .
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. … One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine thatan unjust law is no law at all.
–Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)
As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so —what about Vietnam?They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war,This way of settling differences is not just.This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.
–Martin Luther King Jr., Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence (April 4, 1967).