January 15, 2018

Anatomy of a peaceful protest… Thinking of MLK today.

If you follow me on social media at all, you know that my Facebook banner image is, as often as not, this:

As such, it should come as no surprise that I’m reflecting on the life and times of the great civil rights leader today. Specifically, though, I’m thinking about the term “leader” within that description.  Narrowing the lens a bit more, what I’m pondering is the where and when of civil disobedience/peaceful protest/ direct action.  Dr. King, in his letter from the Birmingham jail, clearly outlines the steps that can culminate (in the event that the earlier steps fail) in direct non-violent action, that 4 step process goes as follows:

In the above he also discusses how, in Birmingham, they attempted and were rebuffed on steps 1 and 2, leading to step 3 below:

Later in the text he goes on to respond to the queries put before him about “why direct action?” by stating that it was only after having exhausted the previous steps in the process that non-violent protest was considered.  Further – and this is critical – even when it came to direct action, the singular goal of getting to negotiation was still the ultimate target outcome.  No one was there for the purpose of protesting, they were there to forcefully – but without violence – bring the other party to the negotiating table.  As outlined below, the purpose of protest is to create a sense of urgency or tension that motivates all sides toward negotiation and, by extension, a reasonable result.

I think it is vitally important to keep all of these components in mind when planning (or assessing) any act of protest.

  1. Have you gathered all of the facts; are you literate in that which you are about to protest?
  2. Have you tried everything you can to negotiate with the powers that be?
  3. Have you self-purified; are you fully prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions, without compromising the quality of your character?
  4. If you are beginning direct action, do you have a clear set of goals; are they centered around bringing everyone back to the table to talk?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, then you are not ready to lead a protest.  You may be ready, willing, and able to join one and shout for whatever your cause is; but leadership is not currently in your tool chest.

I’m not sure how often people follow this blueprint anymore.  I certainly don’t hear people talking about it when discussing possible protests; and this leaves me wondering how many of our efforts toward improving the world we live in are actually structured toward having a decent chance of success.

Sidenote: On the other side of the coin, if you find yourself in the position of assessing a protest, you should evaluate it on the same basis.  And, if the protesters can answer yes to all of those questions and you feel ill at ease with their protest, this does not mean they are being inappropriate or disrespectful, it means that someone on the other side of the issue is being unreasonable or unwilling to talk, and it also means that their (along with your) discomfort is by design.

Martin Luther King left this world a better place in so many ways.  His words have inspired generations and will no doubt motivate their progeny as well.  However, I think  what is often lost in his greatness, and what actually might be one of the more valuable takeaways from his (all too short) time on this Earth, was his dedication to process and keeping the focus on meaningful, tangible objectives.  Sometimes, when learning from those we admire, there can as much to learn from how they went about their work as there is in the work itself.  MLK’s letter from that Birmingham jail checks both boxes and is a great blueprint; not for how to lead a protest, but for how to lead a movement.

December 1, 2008

She was Parks, before Parks was cool…

Filed under: Observations,mlk — sbj @ 4:59 pm

If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you probably are expecting something today about Rosa Parks. This is a reasonable expectation, and to some degree you will have this insight validated. Rosa Parks is, indeed, part of the introduction for what I want to talk about today.

Today, December 1, 1955 (just 11 short years before I was born) Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The bus boycott and Supreme Court case the ensued have, of course become the stuff of legend (as well they should). However, what many do not know if Rosa Parks was not the first woman to take this action. In fact she was not the even the first to get her case to the nations highest court.

Eleven years prior to the event in Montgomery, Irene Morgan also steadfastly refused to give up her seat on an interstate Greyhound bus ride and she was arrested. Her case went to the Supreme Court in 1946 and she won (by and overwhelming 7-1 vote), making segregation on interstate busses illegal.

Somehat ironically her case was argued by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American Justice of that same Supreme Court.

So today, with a tip of the hat and a nod to Rosa Parks, who the U.S. Congress called “the mother of the modern civil rights movement,” and who ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which in turn launched Martin Luther King jr to national prominence; today, I salute Irene Morgan, dare I say “the grandmother of the modern civil rights movement?”

August 28, 2008

I Have a Dream… also…

Forty-five years ago, today, MLK gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.  It has become an anthem, as well it should have.  With advanced apologies to the specific demographic for which it was intended, I intend to co-opt it into my “cause.”

Much more recently a good friend of mine, while explaining why she was supporting Obama for President instead of Clinton, made the argument that she, as a feminist, was doing so because he was the candidate that most closely represented the feminist idea.  This friend, by the way, really is an expert on the topic; as in, she has a graduate degree in the field of Women’s and Gender Studies.  She explained it this way:

Feminism is not about gender.  It is not limited in scope to sex.  Feminism is about a perspective, it is about hearing those marginalized based on race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.  It is about moving away from a place of privilege to a place of lived experience, and it is about a politics of transformation – of action not reaction.

I typically refer to this behavior as “living”, rather than feminism; however, I’ll take any port (word) in a storm.  The concept is wonderful and the explanation perfect.  Further, as I think about it, the underlying traits of compassion, good will, and fairness are far more often (not uniquely, but more often) found in women than in men, so perhaps feminism is not such a poor moniker.

So, now, we come to my dream.  It is my hope that in my lifetime, or, of that is too optimistic, in my children’s lifetimes, that there will come a day where everyone looks at others as equals.  Where compassion rules over compulsion, benevolence over bigotry, and empathy over apathy.

I dream of a society that values each and every asset present within it equally.  One where people will be judged and treated according to nothing more (and nothing less) than “the content of their character.”

My dream continues with people realizing that they do not need to have an individual cause, but rather can be part of a greater human cause.  In the area of human interaction, there should not be minorities, majorities and demographics; there should simply be humans, interacting.  My dream is that all crusaders for equal rights realize they are fighting for the same things.  I want to see more people like my friend, who are willing to put an ideal ahead of an agenda.  Perhaps what I want, is a nation of feminists.

That is my dream, on this important anniversary, what is yours?

PS Thank you again Dr King, your words and life continue to be an inspiration to an ever increasing number.

April 4, 2008

But, Soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

Filed under: A life worth living,Observations,mlk — sbj @ 5:49 pm

Call me soft and romantic, Romeo and Juliet has always been one of my favorite diversions. Yes, it is a tragedy (a romantic one, but a tragedy none the less), but there is also a strong message of hope in that play. Further, in the one scene most oft quoted it seems to me, on this day of mourning, that there is something strangely prophetic in these words.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

Is it such a stretch to see Martin Luther King Jr as that beam of light (sparked into prominence by Rosa Parks and that historic boycott in Montgomery, AL)? Light emanating from a burgeoning era of enlightenment spearheaded by the civil rights movement. Could not the envious moon be a bygone (or at least dwindling) era of abuse and oppression? Some days, this day, I see these things when I read those words.

When I think of the loss, and the potential that was released upon that balcony rather than on the mass of humanity 40 years ago, today; I am overcome with what could have been, and what is. But, in the strongest way, I reflect on what was.

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.

This man was a shining light, a beacon of what the human race can aspire to become. In being martyred (yes, martyred, not assassinated*) that light was not dimmed; rather, it continues to brighten and warm the world as the dawning of a new era progresses.

Forty years ago, yesterday, MLK said the following:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

I want to visit that Mountain Top, I want to arrive in the promised land, and I want to see that light breaking through yonder window. I want to see what Martin Luther King saw, I want to see it here and I want to see it now. That is my dream…


* It is not enough to say MLK was assassinated (killed for political reasons, etc.).  The man was killed for standing firm by a belief system; a belief system that was (and is) changing the world for the better.  He was Martyred.

February 12, 2008


Filed under: Observations,mlk — sbj @ 11:50 pm

AKA The Civil Rights Act of 1964 granted equal right protections to 100 million Americans, created 380 federal jobs (over the first 5 years) at an annual estimated cost of $16 million per year (also over the first 5 years), all dedicated to those protections.  It was the immediate culmination of MLK’s work, and the beginning of the journey toward his dream.

Interestingly, the protections extended to the vast majority of the people effected by this bill were there only by virtue of the “law of unintended consequences”.

For obvious, albeit nonsensical, reasons there was considerable opposition to the resolution.  One of the attempts to kill the bill was a legislative tactic called a “killer” amendment.  In essence, an amendment that common sense dictated would preclude anyone from voting for the bill.  it appears that Rep. Howard Smith of Virginia lacked some of the common sense he was hoping to exploit because his attempt to kill the bill backfired badly in his face (much to the joy of millions of Americans).

What was the killer amendment that passed along with the bill itself? It was simply adding one single word to the document.  The word “sex”.  With those three letters Smith, quite inadvertently, and completely against his intentions, ushered in government efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace.

Here’s to you Rep. Smith, you don’t get it (or at least didn’t at the time, probably in more ways than one), but thanks to you, over half the people in the country did!!!

January 24, 2008

War, good god, what is it good for???

Filed under: Observations,mlk — sbj @ 7:56 pm

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood

Obviously, as the world makes technological strides, the military does as well. The world is smaller, the range and accuracy of our weapons is greater, and the detachment from the results of using those weapons is increased as well. As enhanced military capabilities change the nature of military conflict the question must be asked, is the concept of war itself obsolete (mind you, I’m not pondering if it is right or wrong, just if it is obsolete)? It is no longer a test of who is best on the battle field, but rather who is more capable of destroying every living thing on the battle field the fastest and from the safest location. As weapons develop, the scope of “the battlefield” grows. From the relatively small empty plains of the Roman warrior to the inferno of Dresden and the apocalypse of Hiroshima and Nagasaki… we’ve come a long way baby. The question is, what’s next?

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

When I look at the conflict in Iraq (and Afghanistan, I have not, as many have done, forgotten about that little skirmish), I find myself wondering how long we can continue to wage a war who’s legs were knocked out from under it years ago. I find myself wondering what reparations we will have to pay and who will enforce them (none and noone in my opinion), for launching a war under false pretenses and continuing it, for what purposes I’m not sure.

I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war … has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation.

During the Vietnam war, there was a staggering statistic I read, that stated that we spent around $500,000 per Vietnamese soldier we killed. During the same time span we spend an average of 53 cents per year on impoverished people in our own country. Half a million to kill other people, less than 53 cents a year to help our own. This is the democracy and freedom we are warring all over the globe to protect?  Further, can you imagine what the disparity between those same numbers would be now, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of … people when we have not even put our own house in order.

I am not without hope for this nation, nor this world. I still believe that we have, in concept, the best foundation for a successful society. It needs some tweaks, and some legitimate implementation, but overall, it is, in my opinion, the way things should be. I do not believe we have gone beyond the point of no return, but we must address how we conduct our business as a leading nation (from an power and economic standpoint) in the world.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace … and for justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

* Thank you Dr King for the quotes and the insight.  They were all from the mid to late 60′s, of course, but are all applicable today.

January 20, 2008

MLK(ish) blog…

Filed under: A life worth living,Observations,mlk — sbj @ 11:33 pm

I am disappointed today.

As I read over MLK’s I have a Dream speech, I realize, that while I know things have gotten better, and I also know things are not what they should be, I do not really know the status of the African American today. I realize that while I preach and pontificate what I consider to be a mandate; treating all people equally, regardless of the color of their skin, religious denomination, gender, sexual preference, etc. I do not really know how far this country and this world have progressed in this journey. For that, I am disappointed.

I had intended to copy the I Have a Dream speech into my blog, then intersperse within it “progress reports” on how we are doing, 45 years later. However, I am unable to do so. I am ignorant of the detailed knowledge I would need in order to do so responsibly. For that I am disappointed.

I am confident that this country is far closer to a “land of the free’ than it was 45 years ago, and continues to move in that direction. What I do not know is whether we have picked up the pace or slowed down the wheels of progress during my adult life. I also question whether this country has taken its “issue” and simply transferred it to another target, outside of our borders. In other words, have we really made any progress, or simply changed those that we oppress? I do not have those answers either, and for that… I am disappointed.

I should know these things, I once did. I once had my fingers on the pulse of bigotry as well as the pulse of human rights. I was once intimate with both oppression and tolerance. These concepts are all acquaintances to me now, the intimacy is gone. I move though my life with a purpose, but it is a narrow and focused purpose. I have a business to run (and with any luck to sell), I have a job to maintain, I have children to raise, and the list goes on. Where I once worked for a cause (or at least to understand a cause) I now just work. For that, I am disappointed.

I still give my little stump speeches on negative stereotypes et. al. to anyone who will listen, but, increasingly, I am preaching from an outdated book. I know this, but I have not done much to update my text. For that, I am disappointed.

When I was a very young boy (probably around second or third grade), my mother told me the story of Ishi. Ishi was what we today would call am American Indian, or a Native American, depending on your level of political correctness. He was significant, because he is believed to be the last Native American to live outside “Western” civilization in California and because he was the last living member of his tribe. Ishi was not his real name, noone knows his real name, because it was taboo in his tribe to say ones own name. As such, he took it to the grave with him. I took that story and ran with it, making Native American rights my cause celeb until I was about 17 years old. Today, I do not remember the name of Ishi’s tribe, and other than water agreements that come through the state legislature (where I work) I am oblivious to what is going on in the world of Native Americans. For that, I am disappointed.

It has been said that social advocacy is a job for the young, the invested, and the soon to be committed. .Meaning, as life goes on, life takes over your time and attention. Sadly, I can see where this phrase come from in my own life. However, I have two children. Fantastic children with brilliant heads on their shoulders. Perhaps next time we are sitting around the living room, I will tell them the story of Ishi, and talk with them about the changes I have seen in the world. I will tell them of Dr King and his speech and maybe together we can forge our own dream. A dream they can track as fervently as I did mine. With any luck, they’ll do so at least long enough to inspire their own children to do the same. Leaving the world a better place than they found it. For that, I am hopeful.

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