This weekend I revisited the writings of Martin Luther King, looking for something to read in his honor at a gathering of friends. In my mind, he stands for eloquent justice in the face of stubborn privilege, and as far as it goes, that’s true. But taking him literally, he stands so much more for love.
As the years passed, I seldom remembered that King was a disciple of Gandhi, a dedicated advocate of the practice of \Satyagraha\ (a combination of the Hindi words for “truth” and “firmness,” coined by Gandhi to describe nonviolent resistance). The following paragraphs are from his writing on nonviolence and the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. (This and other seminal writings are collected in Black Protest by an old friend, writer/filmmaker/activist Joanne Grant, who passed away last week; may her memory be a blessing.)
King wrote that nonviolence “does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding. The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that these are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation ofthe beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.
“…The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to center of our lives.”
Domestic opposition to the Bush administration’s policies has not been physically violent, but it has been strongly animated by emotional violence, which is to say hatred. Speaking for myself, I have internalized the view that awakening a sense of moral shame in these opponents would be impossible, because if they possessed consciences they would not be capable of such cruel acts. I now see that when these are the driving convictions, it is impossible to desire the opponent’s transformation, rather than defeat and humiliation. When these are the driving convictions, even if no blows are exchanged, the chain of hate is perpetuated.
Revisiting MLK made it all seem clear, our dyspepsia and debilitation, the strongly oppositional nature of our campaigns, the defeatist logic. It seems to me that what we lack is a politics motivated by love. It seems to me that the next movement and the next candidate we should get behind are those grounded in love for the oppressed and the belief in the possibility of redemption for the oppressors, those who hate the sin and not the sinner. This is a tall order. But as of today, in honor of Martin Luther King, may he rest in peace, I am on the lookout for leaders who can help us fulfill it.