Let us Bring Martin Luther King's Peace
to the January Peace March
"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government. ... [F]or the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."
--Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967
Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words about the Vietnam War. Our country could be on the brink of another Vietnam. I am writing, of course, about the war on Iraq that our government is threatening to embark on, as early as January 27, 2003. We cannot be silent for the sake of thousands of Iraqi citizens and perhaps thousands of our own soldiers. Let us take to the streets in a tribute to nonviolent direct action in the name of Dr. King against this war and the war on terror.
This year, we can commemorate Dr. King on his birthday weekend by attending the March for Peace in Washington, D.C. on January 18, 2003. If Dr. King were alive today, rest assured he would be an outspoken critic of the plans to go to war against Iraq, one of the poorest countries in the world. Iraq lies smack in the middle of that part of the world that cannot or will not withstand the immense ball of fire that is headed its way. Let us give honor and praise to King and his pacifism by showing up in the millions on the streets of Washington D.C. and San Francisco to show our government that we do not want to wage war; instead, we want to wage peace.
The most controversial part of King's legacy is not his victory in the civil rights movement, which we gratefully recall each January. King's controversy lies in his pacifism, which he used as a weapon in his battle for all human rights. In 1967, King came out against the Vietnam War. By doing this, he isolated himself from other black activists and the White House. Journalist Richard Goldstien writes of King: "He was that rare thing in America today: a radical reformer who believed the system could be changed and saved. Though he had his doubts, especially near the end, King held to the conviction that justice would come through a new consciousness rooted in empathy. … As we verge on another imperial war at the cost of social progress, there's no more vital time to remember the real King."
The other civil right leaders were against the Vietnam War but they did not want to appear to be un-American. The conservatives in the government thought of King as a "commie dupe" for his nonviolence stance. Here is one of King's responses to his many critics, "If I am the only person left who believes in nonviolence, I will be that sole person calling for nonviolence." All of us should imitate this heroic stand by Dr. King and march for peace on his birthday weekend.
Dr. King derived his philosophy from Christian teachings, Henry Thoreau's social writings and the great Indian father of pacifism, Mahatma Gandhi.
King and Gandhi are the two most internationally revered symbols of nonviolence in the 20th century. Dr. King's principles embrace nonviolence, inspired by Gandhi, as a tool wielded by the courageous, as a weapon for conquering injustice, not people, as a conscious choice of love over hate, as a methodology for gaining understanding and as an instrument of transformation.
This major philosophy of Dr. King is not usually remembered in his holiday celebration. The King image remembered today has been sanitized for popular consumption. We choose not to commemorate the King who, as the radical pacifist, challenged American foreign policy, forcefully and directly, in the middle of a war. The King of 1967, in the year 2003, would be accused of being a traitor for his pacifist views. He would be prosecutable under the USA PATRIOT Act!
We choose not to remember the King that J. Edgar Hoover tried to bring down, using the FBI in ways that were not moral or legal. We choose not to remember the King that was vilified because of his powerful indictments of the Vietnam War and the military-industrial complex. We choose not to remember the words of King about "evil men." He said, "When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind."
Not one public person has chosen to use Dr. King's birthday as a way to protest what is going on in today's world. If Dr. King were alive, he would not be leading any parade. He would be leading the march against this war on the weekend of the holiday celebrating his birth. On October 26, 2002, hundreds of thousands marched in protest in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. A crowd estimated at 450,000 turned out in London some weeks ago protesting Britain's intended role in any war in Iraq, while at the same time, in Italy, an estimated 1.5 million took to the streets in peaceful demonstration against the war. We, here in the United States, can show the rest of the world that we truly want peace, not war, by taking to the streets of our cities and rising up in a swell of peaceful anti-government protest to this war.
Dr. King would reject our military intervention with his assertion that violence cannot be fought with more violence. He said, "Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyer." He would exhort the United States and the world community to seek justice, not vengeance.
Dr. King was a revolutionary. We honor revolutionaries many years after they die. And we distort images to suit our own conformity. We make Hallmark Cards out of them. In doing this, we deprive our children from the knowledge that King was a man who defied convention and authority. Dr. King led from an internal force that compelled him to make the world better through peaceful means. This is the example he set for posterity; peace, not war; love, not hate; compassion, not revenge.
Here is what Dr. King said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace prize in 1964: "…nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. …Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love." This is the message we must convey to our present administration through the force of our numbers this month in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.
"I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him," he further stated at the same ceremony. Let us pay attention, folks, to his words, and by participating in this march we can indeed "influence the unfolding events." Now is the time for the direct action called for by King and Gandhi.
Now is the time for all of us to march against this administration's war on the world which is where this war on Iraq is taking us.
Dr. King would have counseled the administration to resist the lust for war and the destruction of other peoples. He would be judging the content of our character by our willingness to build bridges instead of dropping bombs. He would ask that we heal those blinded by hatred and ignorance instead of destroying them. Above all, Dr. King was a Christian, following in the steps of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Dr. King would have simply said, "Christians, I challenge you to be Christian." I hope to see each and every person who is against this war at the march. It may be our last chance to stop this madness.
Keiler Hook "is a woman, a mother, an activist, and a journalist" from the Deep South in the United States, who writes pieces mostly concerning the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs"; both subjects capturing her passion and her talent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org.