Friday, January 20, 2006

MLK and Nonviolence

It has been a busy week, so here at the end of it I need to do some catching up.

One thing I failed to post earlier this week was a link to a wonderful essay by Taylor Branch published in the New York Times on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Branch, who has recently published At Canaan's Edge, the third volume in his monumental biography of Dr. King, describes the way that King and the movement he led employed the core values of America and a deep commitment to nonviolence to transform our nation and the world. He laments the fact, however, that we have largely abandoned King's legacy and that we have failed to see the utility of King's methods for our present struggles:

Only hours before his death, Dr. King startled an aide with a balmy aside from his unpopular movement to uplift the poor. "In our next campaign," he remarked, "we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international."

The nation would do well to incorporate this goal into our mission abroad, reinforcing the place of nonviolence among the fundamentals of democracy, along with equal citizenship, self-government and accountable public trust. We could also restore Dr. King's role in the continuing story of freedom to its rightful prominence, emphasizing that the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it. And we must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past.

Much of this bears repeating, but perhaps no line moreso than this one: "The best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it." The pithy expression is Branch's, but the lesson it conveys is Dr. King's.

It is a lesson that our generation needs to re-learn.