aNewDomain — It is the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is in Ferguson in large numbers to protest, make demands and get arrested.
Yes, there has been violence, and that’s hard to minimize: A young man was shot by police under suspicious circumstances. He’s alive at this writing, but in critical condition.
For the most part, demonstrations have been peaceful. But this is a movement of civil disobedience and it always has been. It isn’t for the faint of heart. Civil compliance hasn’t gotten anyone anywhere in the 47 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. But civil disobedience achieved great things and still does.
It got the Ferguson police department investigated, for example.
Demonstrators are being arrested right now. A report here says demonstrators are being arrested non-confrontationally, just like when Bree Newsome climbed that flagpole then calmly held out her hands for the officer.
Getting arrested is all part of the process.
When laws are unjust, they need to be broken.
King had a lot to say about this, and he knew what he was talking about. He sat in a lot of jail cells and paid a lot of fines. The laws he broke were about segregation and defying orders not to march.
The laws our Ferguson protesters today are breaking have to do with climbing over police barriers to sit on public property. Not at all in the same class of injustice. But in this case, it isn’t a segregationist law that needs to be defied, but a racist establishment.
It isn’t hard to find parallels between the movements and state resistance, despite today’s racism being coded and covert. For example, during the first round of riots, the governor issued a curfew and called in the National Guard to enforce it. Make no mistake: The NG wasn’t there to keep the peace or to arbitrate between an illegally acting police force and people with a civil right to gather publicly. They considered the black folk in the streets to be enemy forces.
That’s right. Military men in combat boots with riot gear, tanks and automatic weapons used the words “enemy forces” to talk about American citizens.
So, some protesters are going to jail.
King said that was the thing to do. Go to jail en masse, clog up the system, make the oppressor find room for you, time for you, systems for you. Cornel West was arrested and I suspect that’s why he goes to these things: Because he’s a public figure and they can’t disappear him, and he has public outlets for his information so they can’t manhandle the people being arrested with him too badly.
You think it can’t work, that rotting in jail helps no one. But, you know, civil disobedience brought segregation to its knees.
It got Britain out of India. It got black folks the right to vote, and women the same right. It ended the Vietnam war and, arguably, the first Gulf war. Tim DeChristopher protested the illegal sale of public land at auction and served 21 months in jail for fraud: he bid on the illegal parcels intending to not pay for them. He disrupted the sale, and that auction was found to be illegal directly because his protest and jailing prompted investigation.
So, if you’re out there in Ferguson tonight, holding out your hands so an officer can arrest you, congratulations.
You are my heroes. Well done. Clog up the system.
Make them take you away, make them deal with you. Force them to hear you. Be seen. Be proud.
And be safe out there.
Here’s an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s February 1960 “A Creative Protest” Durham, NC speech. Read the full one here.
I’m convinced more white people must join the movement against segregation in this country. The tensions in race relations in the United States today are not tensions between white and black people; they are tensions between justice and injustice, between light and darkness.
If there is a victory, it will not be for just seventeen million Negroes; it will be a victory for justice, democracy and freedom. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. So long as America is burdened down with the ugly weight of segregation, she cannot expect to have the respect of the peoples of the world.
Indeed the shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of an anemic democracy. America must either achieve racial justice or face the ultimate social psychosis that can lead to domestic suicide.
May I say to you as you continue your protest, you will confront moments of difficulty. But let us realize that no great and lasting gain comes in history without suffering and sacrifice. I have prayed much over our Southern situation, and I have come to the conclusion that we are in for a season of suffering.
Now I pray that, recognizing the necessity of suffering, the Negro will make of it a virtue. To suffer in a righteous cause is to grow to our humanity’s full stature. If only to save ourselves from bitterness, we need the vision to see the ordeals of this generation as an opportunity to transfigure ourselves and American society. Let us not fear going to jail. If the officials threaten to arrest us for standing up for our rights, we must answer by saying that we are willing and prepared to fill up the jails of the South. Maybe it will take this willingness to stay in jail to arouse the dozing conscience of our nation.
May I also urge you to continue the struggle on the highest level of dignity. You have rightly chosen to follow the path of non-violence. As we protest, our ultimate aim is not to defeat or humiliate the white man but to win his friendship and understanding. We have a moral obligation to remind him that segregation is wrong.
Let us protest with the ultimate aim of being reconciled with our white brothers. As we sit down quietly to request a cup of coffee, let us not forget to drink from that invisible cup of love, which can change a segregationist into an integrationist. Let us keep our eyes on the end we seek, but let us never forget the significance of proper means. There is a success of history and a success of eternity. Right methods to achieve a right objective is itself a coming together of history and eternity, and where one uses right methods there is, even if obscured in history, a spiritual victory.
Let us avoid not only external physical violence but also internal violence of the spirit. We can build an empire depending on Love. In that way, we may be able to not only teach ourselves something, but we may be able also to teach others something. The choice is no longer between violence and non-violence; it is between violence and non-existence. All the darkness in the world cannot obscure the light of a single candle … and so I would urge you to continue your just struggle until the people with whom you trade will respect your person as much as they respect your dollar. May I assure you that you have the full weight of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference behind you in your struggle.
At a certain point in every struggle of great importance, a moment of doubt or hesitation develops. Some voices declare, ‘Let us stop here, we have gone far enough.’
We confronted this crisis in Montgomery–we had these doubts. Despite the debates, the confusion and the uncertainty we carried on. If there is one lesson experience taught us which I would hope to leave with you, it is that when you have found by the help of God a correct course, a morally sound objective, you do not equivocate, you do not retreat–you struggle to win a victory.” Read more here.