The current economic, political, social and cultural climate that history might one day refer to as the Trump Era raises critical questions about this nation’s experiment in creating a society with liberty and justice for all — of the people, by the people and for the people.
On this 54th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, I give deep thought to what my father meant by nonviolence then, and what I believe nonviolence to mean today: the preservation of human life and a whole society, and what all actors in this democracy are willing to do in the interest of self-preservation.
We are living in a world community where its less fortunate and marginalized citizenry of all races, religions and ethnic backgrounds are demanding their voices be heard, their faces seen, and their needs met.
What is behind many of today’s protests on the left and right demonstrates people have lost confidence, trust and hope in this democracy and, more precisely, the institutions that negotiate and oversee their life chances, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
For too many, the American dream is decidedly a nightmare. Rather than taking on the failed structures and those accountable for them, too many have turned on each other. The increased acts of violence demonstrated by neo-Nazi and domestic terrorists is an example.
Neither my father, nor I view nonviolence as a utopian or naïve concept given the violent state of affairs of then and now. Rather, nonviolence is a logical and essential goal to preserve humankind and society.
Nonviolence is more than peaceful protest and resistance. Nonviolence requires everyone and every segment of this democracy to do its part.
Nonviolence is more than physical refrain because as we have witnessed, violence against our own citizenry includes economic, political and social abuse meted out by institutions and systems.
For example, generational and whole communities have been choked and reduced to ruins in the nation’s Rust Belt as industries have relocated abroad or altogether vanished. That is economic violence.
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Unarmed and innocent Black men, women and children are brutalized or killed by law enforcement and there is no accountability for a life taken. That is institutional violence.
Each year, children show up to substandard and hollowed school systems and expected to thrive. That is systemic violence.
There are efforts to enact legislation and policies that deny citizenry their right to politically participate in this democracy. That is political violence.
All of these barriers and denying of participation, progress, humanness and quality of life leads to an enraged citizenry.
As my father was, I am also keenly aware of these devastating realities for humankind, and believe a “culture of nonviolence” is the remedy.
What does a culture of nonviolence look like?
Nonviolence is more than peaceful protest and resistance. Nonviolence requires everyone and every segment of this democracy to do its part — citizenry, and the political class and economic sector. At some point, all actors in this democracy – particularly those in positions of power - have to take ownership for how this nation arrived at this unhinged state.
Nonviolence is more than peaceful protest and resistance.
Dr. King viewed nonviolent direct action as the most powerful tool African-Americans had at that time to address their specific situation of institutional and systemic racism, and oppression. While the movement saw important changes, my father came to realize it would not be sufficient to bring about a full transformation of the social structures that limit the life chances of some groups, while favoring others.
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What is essential is what my father coined “a revolution of values.” Values that foster human dignity, liberty and community. And, those values must be evident in every pillar of this democracy — economic, political and social.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of my father’s assassination. Here we are, once again, at a critical juncture in the history of this nation.
A democracy, its institutions and citizenry have to choose to want a quality of life for all. Violence will never lead to quality of life.
For the preservation of humankind and a whole society, there is much work to be done here.
— Martin Luther King III, Human Rights Activist