I watched parts of the Inauguration yesterday, and because it was also MLK Day, there were plenty of references to the legacy of Martin Luther King and the long and difficult struggle for civil rights for all in this country -- a struggle that continues, of course. Many inspirational words were offered in tribute.
Well. I've pondered -- and participated in -- the civil rights struggle for many a long year, and I cannot for the life of me understand why, after all these years of struggle, civil rights are still in jeopardy, perhaps more now than at any time since the institution of Jim Crow. The success of the movement has led to what?
For many Americans, it means taking for granted the civil rights and liberties at the foundation of the nation as belonging to all of us, not simply a favored few (as they did at the foundation of the nation.) But we find that taking these rights and liberties for granted has meant that they are once more jeopardized as voting rights, especially, are more and more restricted, and rights to privacy, fair trials and due process and so forth evaporate before our very eyes.
During the controversies over "non-violence" within the Occupy movement, I pointed out that rigidly following King and Gandhi in today's environment is bound to fail and for a very simple reason: Our Rulers have learned many lessons since the days of Indian Independence and the American Civil Rights Movement. They will not ever allow that kind of movement and resistance to succeed again. What they will do instead is infiltrate, co-opt and destroy if they can't use the means and methods of the King/Gandhi non-violence principles against the movement directly.
When I pointed out that many of those who were advocating strict adherence to King/Gandhi "non-violence" were actually advocating for the interests of Our Rulers against the interests of the People (I like to use the example of the use of Non-violent Communications by Our Rulers as one of their ways to employ "nonviolence" against the People -- as I was trained in Non-Violent Communications when I was a government employee, and I know all too well how it works...) all hell would sometimes break loose.
The problem is not that the principles of non-violent resistance are necessarily wrong, it is that they no longer work in the context of modern, supposedly democratic, states, and when they are employed in People's Uprisings and Revolutions these days (and for quite a long time past when you think how long its been since the Soviet Union fell) they almost inevitably lead to a Neo-Con/Neo-Liberal victory.
And that is not what the People rose up to accomplish. Is it?
Both Gandhi and King understood that their use of nonviolent resistance was part of a larger strategy to undermine the power of and eventually force the capitulation of oppressive and intrinsically violent political systems. That overall strategy was not limited to nonviolent resistance campaigns by any means. In both India and the United States, sabotage and armed resistance were taking place simultaneously with non-violent campaigns. The eventual success of the non-violent campaigns was in part due to the presence of -- or the threat of -- violent revolutionary alternatives.
So often in the modern conception of 'non-violent resistance,' however, there is no alternative path; there is only The One, as codified not by Gandhi and King but by Gene Sharp, whose influence on the Color Revolutions of the '80's and '90's was significant. Their success, however, led -- in every case that I'm aware of -- to the establishment of a Neo-Con/Neo-Liberal regime which calls itself "Liberty."
"Liberty" for whom? To do what? This is something that Sharpian 'non-violence' advocates dast not answer, for many of them must know the truth: it leads to "liberty" for the predators to exploit and impoverish the masses.
Both Gandhi and King well understood that economic "liberty" as it was understood by the Ruling Class led directly to the impoverishment of the masses and enormous social destruction. They sought ways and means to counter that sort of "liberty" as they were pressing for independence in the case of India and civil rights and racial integration in the case of the United States.
Just being able to fly your own flag or to vote or to sit at a lunch counter was not enough. And they knew it.
Of course today there is little or no mention of the economic justice programs of Gandhi and King; after all, both were assassinated well before their campaigns for economic justice could even begin to overturn the corrupt and destructive systems they witnessed in their own time.
Gandhi's assassination may have had more to do with the political situation in newly independent India, but it seems clear enough that King's assassination was driven at least in part by his shift from a primary focus on civil and political rights to anti-war and economic justice campaigns that threatened the Powers That Be in ways they could not, at the time, accommodate.
King seemed to understand, too, that his shift of focus would further jeopardize his life.
The tragedy is that the legacies that might have been were violently cut short, and memories of what might have been have been suppressed, replaced with idealized images of what never really was.
King's final book was titled: "Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?" published in 1967. In it, he acknowledged the progress that had been made in securing political rights for Negroes (the term used in those days) but he clearly focused his attention on the fact that political rights by themselves did not lead to paradise, not by a long shot, and that promise of America would only be secured through the establishment of economic justice.
Now more than ever, that clarion call from so long ago needs to be heard again, for every year, millions more Americans are forced into poverty, their hopes and dreams destroyed, their homes confiscated, their livelihoods vanished, their future gone. This is the cruel truth of the economic situation since the advent of the Perpetual Recession. The American poverty rate, once on the decline, has been skyrocketing, right along with homelessness and hunger, and for all intents and purposes, nothing is being done about it by the Government except to reinforce policies which ensure ever greater levels of poverty and suffering.
It doesn't have to be that way. It never had to be that way. The increasingly desperate situation so many Americans find themselves in could be reversed in a twinkling, too.
But we have a government that resists any policy solution to the increasing problem of poverty in America, that denies any positive ability to change things for the better, that no longer bothers even to talk a good line regarding the now seemingly permanent and scandalous unemployment problem, let alone providing any sort of household debt relief.
All of these issues could be addressed, should be addressed, and won't be addressed willingly by the Ruling Class -- which obviously is quite unbothered by the economic difficulties of the People, in fact, it seems to enjoy increasing the cruelties the People are made to suffer.
So long as that Ruling Class is lavished with the kinds of considerations, benefits, and literal welfare they receive (and believe is their right), and so long as their own debts are covered, why should they care about the sufferings of the masses? They don't and they won't.
Americans have not lived with this level of routine indifference to their plight by their representatives for generations, and it is not easy to grasp just how destructive current policies are.
King ultimately realized that social acceptance and political rights mean a great deal, but they can be eclipsed by failures to establish economic justice and by a perpetual war making machine. So it was near the end of his life, and so it is once again today.
It's a moral issue. It's the fundamental moral issue of our time.
As we stumble against the Future, we are called on to end the perpetual war making machine and establish economic justice for all.