Monday, January 19, 2015

The Effective Rage of Nonviolent Protest

Now that a new generation of civil rights activists is making its collective voice heard, the same very important persons who lately scoffed at Occupy and declared it dead are scoffing once again.

 The demonstrators staging the nationwide die-ins and strikes and generally disrupting life for the self-satisfied Establishment are rankling them for all the usual reasons.

They don't have a single charismatic leader for possible co-optation by the Duopoly. They aren't going through official channels by groveling before politicians, or running for office themselves. They aren't getting out the vote. Their tactics are annoying and loud. And worst of all, they don't have that magical "list of demands" on hand to proffer to the proper authorities at the proper time. (Actually, they do.)

Oprah is pissed because they're not asking her advice, or maybe they should be paying to see the Hollywood version of her MLK biopic production. Al Sharpton is pissed because the young protesters are on to his serial fakery, and he can't co-opt them. And the New York Times is concern-trolling What New Breed of Activists Is This?  Do the kiddies even have the necessary stamina to prevail? The Gray Lady helpfully dredged up a prize-winning MLK biographer to make her dull point:
David J. Garrow, a historian and the author of “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” said the impromptu protests that had erupted in recent months were not comparable to the strategies used by civil rights groups of the 1960s, which had clear goals such as winning the right to vote or the right to eat at a segregated lunch counter.
“You could call it rebellious, or you could call it irrational,” Mr. Garrow said of the new waves of protests. “There has not been a rational analysis in how does A and B advance your policy change X and Y?”
Mr. Garrow compared the protesters to those of Occupy Wall Street. “Occupy had a staying power of, what, six months?” Mr. Garrow said. “Three years later, is there any remaining footprint from Occupy? Not that I’m aware of.”
Garrow sounds like a real fuddy-duddy, doesn't he?  I can just imagine him in his velvet smoking jacket, sniffing his snuff and stroking his chin.

 Yo, Garrow. What about income inequality and "the 99%" becoming part of the national political lexicon because of those algebra-challenged protesters? What about the Occupy Sandy disaster relief drive spawning its own national mutual aid movement, what about Occupy Our Homes and StrikeDebt offshoots saving homeowners and tenants from foreclosure and eviction? What about the reason for the Wall Street Democrats' delayed (and probably short-lived) epiphany that even spending a billion bucks won't win you an election when socially aware and pissed-off voters refuse to show up?

It's odd that Garrow, purporting to be a historian and therefore familiar with the government's persecution of King, neglects to mention the role that the FBI and the Homeland Security fusion centers had in monitoring and disrupting Occupy, and the coordinated role the militarized police had in finally obliterating the actual physical camps in what used to be public spaces.

But I digress. Back when King marched and spoke and wrote, he too was marginalized, he too was derided as an extremist by the Powers That Be. Before his death, he scored very low on those vaunted (and rigged) public opinion polls. The vast majority of white Americans thought highly unfavorably of King and his movement. He was actually proud of being called a radical, though, because Jesus and Gandhi had been considered radicals in their times, too.

When they call fighting for justice "radical," you know you've touched a nerve.

King himself, while fighting against segregation and for voting rights, always stressed the importance of the actual bodies of the protesting people themselves, the force and influence that the actual movement of the people exerted in affectuating change at the top. The lists of demands were just part of the strategy.

His last occupation, the one that he didn't live to see, was the Poor People's March on Washington. Its agenda included what King called "non-violent action skills," actions which would never be tolerated today in the heavily weaponized and guarded and cowering and corrupt Capitol. Then, as now, peaceful protest was called "terrorism" by paranoid politicians in service to the rich and powerful and the military industrial complex. Then, as now, the media concentrated on sporadic outbreaks of violence and later larger riots instead of the economic and social issues involved. Then, as now, there was a right-wing backlash. Then, as now, the government responded to activists' demands by calling for a Day of Prayer (shades of MLK Day itself being downgraded to a Day of Service) and appointing task forces and study groups made up of the rich and powerful. Dr. King said,*
"When a government commands more wealth and power than has ever been known in the history of the world, and offers no more than this, it is worse than blind, it is provocative. It is paradoxical but fair to say that Negro terrorism is incited less on ghetto street corners than in the halls of Congress.
I intended to show that nonviolence will be effective, but not until it has achieved massive dimensions, the disciplined planning, and the intense commitment of a sustained, direct-action movement of civil disobedience on the national scale.
The dispossessed of this nation -- the poor, both white and Negro -- live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to life the load of poverty."
King planned the virtual occupation of the Capitol, with protesters physically camping out in Congressional offices and other government facilities, and refusing to leave until politicians voted in a living wage law and a jobs bill.
"If you're poor, or if you're unemployed anyway, you can choose to stay in Washington as long as the struggle needs you. And if that official says, 'But Congress would have to approve this,' or 'But the President would have to be consulted on that,' you can say, 'All right, we'll wait.' And you can settle down in his office as long a stay as necessary."
Such a mass action today would result in mass arrests, mass rousting, or worse, by the domestic military forces protecting the Homeland Security State. So nowadays, activists are engaging in strikes and boycotts and disruptions in shopping malls, they're shutting down the flow of commerce on interstates, they're even converging in upscale restaurants frequented by the wealthy to stage "Black Brunches."

At last, this year's Martin Luther King holiday is finally about what Martin Luther King actually stood for. I think he would be very happy about that.

I think he would also be very bemused that the digital archive of his writings was made possible today through the self-serving financial generosity of TBTF JP Morgan Chase, responsible for so much of the global misery, poverty and wealth disparity that Dr. King so decried.

(*Above excerpts are from The Trumpet of Conscience, published in 1968 as a compilation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Massey Lecture Series, originally aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and not in the public domain. Yet another irony in the legacy of a man whose championship of the public was his life's mission.)



Patricia M. said...

Thank you, as always, Karen. May we all celebrate Dr. King's life and work in the spirit and sincerity of your remarks and be motivated to do what we can to realize his "dream."

Like David Garrow, in the article by Tanzina Vega, in yesterday’s NYT, many commenters also huffed and puffed about the inappropriateness of present demonstrations - and were of a similar opinion that the demonstrators and the demonstrations "were not comparable to the strategies used by civil rights groups of the 1960s" - sudden experts on what MLK would think and say and do . . . .

I was compelled to let MLK speak for himself, as you did, and posted a comment - an excerpt from his address at the Riverside Church in NYC on April 4, 1967, a year (almost to the day) before he was assassinated. His words are as valuable and relevant now as they were then; he could be speaking today (just exchange some of the weaponry and add a few countries). It is heartbreaking to know that we have come so little way in such a long time:

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

"A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

"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. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

How terrible it was to lose Dr. King.

Denis Neville said...

This just blisters the soul. More than half of US public school students live in poverty.

Little sympathy detected in the comments to the above article, just the usual bitter harangues against the indolent poor - evidence of the success of propaganda against the poor and its scurrilous claims against the “unrestrained welfare state.” The poor can only save themselves, and their road to salvation begins with the withdrawal of the “free lunches” provided to them.

“The “civilized” have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the conscience of civilized world.” - James Baldwin

"Why are there forty million poor people in America? When you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth … you begin to question the capitalist economy….There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism." - Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Convention in August 1967

Our Lame Duck mocks the fundamental values of Dr. Martin Luther King’s demand for a mass movement against poverty and for economic justice.

“We don’t want our children to have any kind of critical thinking, we just want them to be able to function in a low-paying dead-end job. There is no emphasis on teaching the young African-American male to dream. And teaching him, and the young sisters also, him or her, that, OK, education is more than passing scores, how you perform on a test—it has to do with how you live in community with others. It has to do with nutrition. It has to do with poverty. It has to do with the whole person. We are slashing and burning programs at the preschool level. We start with Head Start and early childhood education, and all the way up through the foundational primary grades. Who is going to teach these kids ….?” - Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Glen Ford writes:

“Sharpton and his colleagues in the old line civil rights groups and Democratic Party Black caucuses will deploy every scheme imaginable to hijack, subvert and otherwise thwart the growth of a radical, youth-dominated, Black grassroots movement strategically aligned with non-white radicals. The growing rift should be welcomed … thanks to the liberating model of Ferguson, there is the opportunity to thoroughly discredit the Black Misleadership Class and to move towards a new and transformational political dynamic in Black America and the larger society…

In the absence of a Black mass movement, the Democratic wing of finance capital and their Black operatives will once again divert African Americans from mounting their own challenges to the evils that oppress them, and we will witness another sickening circling of the wagons around the supposedly Lesser Evil blue donkey – the trap that has neutralized Blacks as an independent social force in the U.S. The next year of struggle in the streets will determine if Black America can break the cycle of entrapment through a movement that seeks to uproot existing relations of power, rather than becoming more tightly bound to the oppressor’s institutions.”

Will said...

2 links for MLK day.

First, here's Captain Teleprompter with an insultingly half-assed tribute video released this morning:

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Video:

And for a refreshing dose of truth today, here's Cornel West with an excerpt from "The Radical King":

annenigma said...


Half-assed tribute is right. Obama looks pissed that he has to waste his breath talking about MLK. What is his problem anyway? Is he hitting the bottle or something?

Cornel West and BHO - what a contrast. Like Black and White.

Doug Broome said...

Thank you Karen. MLK focussed as much on class as race. In his Montgomery "How long" speech he spoke of how the Southern "Bourbons" tried to divide poor whites from poor blacks in the Progressive Era, and King strove to unite the poor whites and poor blacks to overcome the Bourbons, as MLK described the Southern oligarchs and hegemons.

Doug Broome said...

It is perplexing that Dr. King's Massey Lectures should not be in the public domain. The CBC is a Crown corporation, i.e., public, and the entire point of the Massey Lectures since their inception in 1961 is to enter new ideas into public discourse.
Perhaps it is related to the barbarian invasion that Canada underwent in 2006 when the neocons overthrew the Tory party to become government. Since that time the CBC has had its budget halved and its formerly high standards collapsed into crap embodying pale imitations of the worst of American broadcasting.
It is entirely conceivable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose strategist is the loathsome Karl Rove I kid you not, would try to make a buck off Martin Luther King by limiting the distribution of his thoughts behind a paywall.
Vincent Massey, a great Canadian, (brother of the actor Raymond Massey to give an American reference, founder and endower of the Massey Lectures, would cry to heaven from his grave at this atrocity.

Karen Garcia said...


I couldn't ascertain either why the CBC speeches are not available; the website gave no explanation. My guess is the King family lawyers somehow crossed borders and got copyright, as they have with a lot of other King material. And as you say, the conservatives are rising in strength in Canada. Maybe they just "lost" the original tapes.

So weird that tbtf JPMC is operating the web archive of MLK material. Well, probably not weird: these people don't perform public service out of the goodness of their nonexistent hearts, that's for sure. I smell tax break, preemptive plea bargain or some similar backroom deal granting them perpetual immunity.

By the way, thank you so much for your kind words and plug in Krugman comments today. I really appreciate it.