Central to Martin Luther King's premise and defense of public demonstrations against segregation and racial discrimination in his "Letter From A Birmingham Jail" is the concept of Crisis providing the opportunity for Positive Change. Indeed, he sees Crisis as a necessity for Change.
You may well ask: "Why direct action, why sit ins, why 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 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, so 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.
The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
This theory of Crisis inspiring Change may sound familiar. It is in some ways the foundational theory of those who practice the "Shock Doctrine" so well-known through the works of Naomi Klein. King, of course, is adopting the road of nonviolent resistance -> Crisis -> Change, a pathway that Mahatma Gandhi laid out in the long struggle to free India from the oppression and exploitation of the British Empire. The "Shock Doctrine", on the other hand, is often characterized by violent imposition from above, not unlike the way British India came into being in the first place. Or, in a more immediate and contemporary sense, the way the brutal Iraq invasion and occupation has transpired and continues.
King sought to create the conditions of Crisis so as to force the Powers That Be in Birmingham to negotiate modification and eventual end of Jim Crow segregation in the city, and he would seek to extend the principle broadly throughout the South and wherever else segregation and racial discrimination was the law or the custom.
He knew from Gandhi's experience that it works. It takes time and immense forbearance and patience, but it works. The oppressor eventually is so shamed by his own acts of oppression, and bystanders are so shamed by their indifference to the oppression they are immersed in, that positive Change becomes a necessity for the oppressor.
What we have to come to grips with is that the Progressive operating systems then in place -- as much in Birmingham as anywhere else in the country (Birmingham was no cracker backwater; it was a modern, thriving, industrial city, on the leading edge of what was even then called The New South) -- had failed to accommodate the growing clamor of millions of oppressed Americans for even the basics of Constitutional rights and liberties, a full century after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Civil rights activists were told to "Wait." And not only in Birmingham.
My own neighborhood in California at the time was segregated. The state legislature passed a Fair Housing Act in 1963 to address the widespread segregation in California, only to see the law overturned through the initiative process in 1964. Just as in the South, African Americans in Progressive California were told to "wait" until the times were "right" for Change.
We see some of that today, too. Activists against the Bushevik regime have long been told to "wait," to used only approved methods, only at the right time, to end the national nightmare of Bushevism. And yet, we see today, the more we wait, the worse, in fact, things become.
King advocated nonviolent direct action to precipitate Crisis conditions that would allow and require Change.
And Change, we note, is the overall theme of this year's election campaign, on all sides.
And the Crisis....?
To Be Continued...