Posts tagged Martin Luther King

In Dire Need

Fifty-three years ago to-day, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from Birmingham Jail.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. . . . One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. 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 St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.

. . . I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

. . . You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. . . . Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. . . .

–Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 April 1963)

Disobey Day

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 get official national hero types is 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 of wait, wait.

This, not public-school pageants and official 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 . . . .

–From Official national hero types, Rad Geek (7 April 2008)

Because:

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 that an unjust law is no law at all.

–Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963)

And also:

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).

See also:

Thursday Morning News Clippings

To-day’s clipped stories, from the Opelika Auburn News (September 20, 2012).

  • Front Page. Nothing to clip here, actually. The biggest real estate is occupied by a story about how some super-millionaire said something in private that turned out to be aired in public that may or may not hurt his chances on the margin in his attempt to go from being one of the most massively privileged people in the entire world to the single most massively privileged person in the entire world. This may or may not help out the chances of his super-millionaire opponent to remain the most massively privileged person in the entire world, if it convinces more people that the super-millionaire challenger cares less about ordinary folks than the incumbent super-millionaire does. Somebody is supposed to care about this. I don’t: it couldn’t possibly matter less how much the most massively privileged person in the entire world cares, or who he or she cares about, because the existence of such massive, ruinous and lethal structures of social and economic privilege is exactly the problem, and it is the one problem which such debates over the less-worse of a pair of party-backed super-millionaires will never raise.

  • 2A. Donathan Prater, Bo’s nose: Auburn police get new K-9 tracker. A fairly typical police puff piece to announce that the police force occupying Auburn, Alabama has a new dog that they are going to use to hound people who are trying to get away from them, and to get or fabricate probable cause for harassing people suspected of nonviolent drug offenses.

    Bo has a nose for finding trouble. But in his line of work, that’s a good thing.[1]

    The Auburn Police Division welcomed Bo, an 11-month-old Belgian Malinois, to the force on Wednesday.

    Trained in both narcotics detection and human tracking, Bo was officially introduced to members of the media at Auburn Technology Park North.

    For years, we have called on (Lee County) Sheriff Jay Jones and (Opelika Police) Chief Thomas Mangham for use of their tracking K-9s, for which we’re thankful, but we felt like it was time for us to have our own, Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson. We’re very excited about putting this dog to work.

    … Dawson said Bo was purchased last month from the Alabama Canine Law Enforcement Officers Training Center in Northport with approximately $10,000 in seized assets from drug arrests.

    … The acquisition of Bo puts the APD’s number of K-9 officers at four, said Dawson, a former K-9 handler.

    –Donathan Prater, Bo’s nose: Auburn police get new K-9 tracker. Opelika-Auburn News, September 20, 2012. A2.

    Well, that’s a damn shame. The primary purpose that they will use Bo for, as they use all police dogs, will be to provide pretexts to justify what are essentially random sweeps, searches and seizures; to harass, intimidate and coerce innocent people on easily fabricated, often mistaken and incredibly thin probable cause, with the minutest of ritual gestures at a sort of farce on due process, in order to prosecute a Drug War that doesn’t need to be prosecuted and to imprison, disenfranchise, and ruin the lives of people who have done nothing at all that merits being imprisoned, disenfranchised, or having their lives ruined by tyrannical drug laws. It’s not the dog’s fault, of course; he looks like a perfectly nice dog. But the people who bought him (with the proceeds from their own search-n-seizure racket), and who are using him, are putting him to a violent and degrading use, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  • Op-Ed Page, 4A. Muslim religion should be feared in US. Rudy Tidwell, of Valley, a God-and-Country fixture on the Op-Ed page, decides that he doesn’t like Church-State integrationists when they aren’t part of his favorite church. Then, by means of an insanely ambitious collectivism, he assimilates the actions of his least favorite hypercollectivists to the thoughts and feelings of literally all 1,600,000,000 (he rounds up to 2 billion) Muslims in the world.

    The phrase Arab Spring has become a catchphrase for the media and other liberals to minimize the real dangers of the actual enemy of America.[2] The so-called Arab Spring is actually a Muslim Spring, meaning that the growing takeovers we see in various Middle Eastern countries[3] are Muslims rising up worldwide.

    Why is this aspect of the Middle East unrest not recognized for what it is? The euphemism[4] made between so-called radical Muslims and peaceful Muslims. Islam is a dangerous body of more than 2 billion people who are determined to convert or kill, and there is no compromise to be made?

    It’s not just a few radical Muslims who make terrorist attacks. How then do you account for the fact that when the attacks on 9/11 occurred, Muslims around the world rejoiced and danced in the streets?

    More recent events in Libya and Egypt have been recognized as and declared to be planned attacks, not benign protests. Were all the people burning the embassies and tearing down and burning the American flags peace-loving Muslims?

    We have a growing number of Muslims in the United States. There are enclaves of Muslims who rule with rigid and brutal Shariah law. Dearborn, Mich, is perhaps the most notable. Muslims are entering the U.S. in numbers that would shock us if we knew the full extent.

    I encourage you to get a copy of the Quran and read it. It is a frightening book that demands faithfulness to its teachings to the point of death. It is the guide book for a worldwide takeover, not by reason and diplomacy as Communism said it would do over time,[5] but by conversion or death.

    Rudy Tidwell
    Valley

    Well, then. 2,000,000,000? Really? Did they all do the converting and killing and rejoicing and dancing all at once, or do they maybe take it in turns? Well I suppose the gigantic hive mind that they all link up to when they join that dangerous body no doubt ensures that such problems of coordination don’t really arise.

  • Op-Ed Page, 4A. Today in History.

    On Sept. 20, 1962, James Meredith, a black student, was blocked from enrolling at the University of Mississippi by Democratic Gov. Ross R. Barnett. (Meredith was later admitted.)

    . . .

    In 1884, the National Equal Rights Party was formed during a convention of suffragists in San Francisco.

    In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. was seriously wounded during a book signing at a New York City department store when Izola Curry stabbed him in the chest. (Curry was later found mentally incompetent.)

    In 1973, in their so-called battle of the sexes, tennis star Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, at the Houston Astrodome.

    In 1996, President Bill Clinton announced that he was signing the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill outlawing same-sex marriages, but said it should not be used as an excuse for discrimination,[6] violence or intimidation against gays and lesbians.

    In 2011, repeal of the U.S. military’s 18-year-old don’t ask, don’t tell compromise took effect, allowing gay and lesbian service[7] members to serve[8] openly.

Section A contains no international news at all today, unless you count the collecto-eliminationist letter from Rudy Tidwell on the Op-Ed page.

  1. [1][For whom? –R.G.]
  2. [2][Sic. Of course what he means, as he makes clear, is the enemy of the United States government. Which is not true either, but in any case obviously not the same thing. –RG.]
  3. [3][Sic. Of course all governments are usurpers, and thus are ongoing takeovers by nature. That includes transitional and revolutionary states; on the other hand it also obviously includes the hyperauthoritarian regimes recently challenged or thrown out. What the hell was the Mubarak regime, say, if not a constantly repeated, jackbooted takeover of innocent people’s lives? –RG.]
  4. [4][Sic. What he describes is not a euphemism, but rather a distinction that he regards as being misapplied. –RG.]
  5. [5][Rudy Tidwell is speaking outside of his area of expertise. –RG.]
  6. [6][. . . –R.G.]
  7. [7][Sic. –RG.]
  8. [8][Sic. –RG.]

One of these years

From Tom H. Hastings, The Invisible King, at truthout (2011-01-17):

You watch. Over the weekend and on Monday, the Hallmarked memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be sanitized and blackwashed until he is no more than a sentimental husk hoping that little children of all races will one day be able to play together. Then you’ll see shots of just that, as if to indicate, “Well, thanks, that’s all done, nice historical figure. Bye.” One of these years, they will probably launch the USS Martin Luther King Jr., a spanking new destroyer, or perhaps they will name a class of drone aircraft the “MLK Ground Dominators.”

But I am sure that if Dr. King were alive today, he would agree with all of my political objectives, including especially the most violent parts of my foreign policy agenda and all of my most accommodating moral compromises with the political status quo.

As a historical note on the rest of the article, King, SNCC, and other activists in the Freedom Movement certainly innovated and developed the understanding of nonviolent resistance beyond what Gandhi had done. But I don’t think it’s quite fair to Gandhi to say that he volunteered to help the British or stood aside without objection during Britain’s wars. Perhaps this is a fair summary of his attitude toward the Boer War, the Bambatha uprising, and World War I. But Gandhi’s thought was evolving throughout his life, too, and he later said that it was what he saw during the Bambatha war that really brought home the horrors of war and the need for a different approach. It is, in any case, not at all an accurate description of Gandhi’s attitude during World War II. It was in the midst of World War II that he drafted the Quit India resolution and called for non-cooperation with the British war effort. He also routinely criticized the Allied war effort as trying to defeat the Nazis by becoming as ruthless as they were. As a result, he spent 1942-1944 in prison, along with most of the rest of the Indian National Congress leadership, specifically for criticizing and calling for resistance against the War.

Freedom Movement Celebrity Birthday Feast (this year with big round numbers)

Today is a feast day, and a jubilee celebration, declared by edict of the Ministry of Culture in this secessionist republic of one, in honor of those who have worked, and with hope for those who are working today, for the liberation of so many held captive by oppressive governments in foreign nations.

Happy 80th birthday, Martin Luther King Jr.!

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. 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 that An unjust law is no law at all. … So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

Martin Luther King Jr., born 80 years ago today on January 15, 1929. This passage is excerpted from his Letter from Birmingham Jail (1963) .

Happy 200th birthday, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon!

The sovereignty of Reason having been substituted for that of Revolution,

The notion of Contract succeeding that of Government,

Historic evolution leading Humanity inevitably to a new system,

Economic criticism having shown that political institutions must be lost in industrial organization,

We may conclude without fear that the revolutionary formula cannot be Direct Legislation, nor Direct Government, nor Simplified Government, that it is NO GOVERNMENT.

Neither monarchy, nor aristocracy, nor even democracy itself, in so far as it may imply any government at all, even though acting in the name of the people, and calling itself the people. No authority, no government, not even popular, that is the Revolution.

Direct legislation, direct government, simplified government, are ancient lies, which they try in vain to rejuvenate. Direct or indirect, simple or complex, governing the people will always be swindling the people. It is always man giving orders to man, the fiction which makes an end to liberty; brute force which cuts questions short, in the place of justice, which alone can answer them; obstinate ambition, which makes a stepping stone of devotion and credulity.

… I do not see why I myself should submit to this law. Who guarantees to me its justice, its sincerity? Whence comes it? Who made it? Rousseau teaches in unmistakeable terms, that in a government really democratic and free the citizen, in obeying the law, obeys only his own will. But the law has been made without my participation, despite my absolute disapproval, despite the injury which it inflicts upon me. The State does not bargain with me: it gives me nothing in exchange: it simply practises extortion upon me. Where then is the bond of conscience, reason, passion or interest which binds me?

But what do I say? Laws for one who thinks for himself, and who ought to answer only for his own actions; laws for one who wants to be free, and feels himself worthy of liberty? I am ready to bargain, but I want no laws. I recognize none of them: I protest against every order which it may please some power, from pretended necessity, to impose upon my free will. Laws! We know what they are, and what they are worth! Spider webs for the rich and powerful, steel chains for the weak and poor, fishing nets in the hands of the Government.

You say that you will make but few laws; that you will make them simple and good. That is indeed an admission. The Government is indeed culpable, if it avows thus its faults. No doubt the Government will have engraved on the front of the legislative hall, for the instruction of the legislator and the edification of the people, this Latin verse, which a priest of Boulogne had written over the door to his cellar, as a warning to his Bacchic zeal:

Pastor, ne noceant, bibe pauca sed optima vina. [Pastor, for your health, drink but little wine, but of the best.]

Few laws! Excellent laws! It is impossible. Must not the Government regulate all interests, and judge all disputes; and are not interests, by the nature of society, innumerable; are not relations infinitely variable and changeable? How then is it possible to make few laws? How can they be simple? How can the best law be anything but detestable?

You talk of simplification. But if you can simplify in one point, you can simplify in all. Instead of a million laws, a single law will suffice. What shall this law be? Do not to others what you would not they should do to you: do to others as you would they should do to you. That is the law and the prophets.

But it is evident that this is not a law; it is the elementary formula of justice, the rule of all transactions. Legislative simplification then leads us to the idea of contract, and consequently to the denial of authority. In fact, if there is but a single law, if it solves all the contradictions of society, if it is admitted and accepted by everybody, it is sufficient for the social contract. In promulgating it you announce the end of government. What prevents you then from making this simplification at once?

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, born 200 years ago today, on January 15, 1809. This passage is excerpted from The Principle of Authority, the Fourth Study of The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851).

Here’s to many happy returns!

(Reminders of the occasion thanks to this morning’s e-mail from The Daily Bleed.)