Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
More than fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King recognized the importance and validity of direct action as a tactic in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
In honor of Dr. King, I think it's time for us to recall the role that direct action can play in restoring America to its most Democratic, humane, and decent principles. It's also worth recalling that Dr. King wasn't talking about political parties. He was talking about movements. Building them and nourishing them. Can we remember that? Can we remember that in the face of the sterized Dr. King the media tell us about?
Creation of constructive, nonviolent tension even in the face of threats of extremist violence is Dr. King's true legacy. My hope is that in honor of his birth we will find the courage and foresight once again to do as he would have. That we will become nonviolent gadflies. Recommitment to nonviolence and direct action might be an antidote to America's present inequality worth considering. And enacting.