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Lions Roar : January 2005
50 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 INFLUENCES: Mahatma Gandhi Gandhi’s success in leading India out of the British Empire—not by violent revolution but by nonviolent action—made a mighty impression on King. He quoted Gandhi often, believing that if nonviolence could liberate 300 million Indians, it might also work for 20 million black Americans. NONVIOLENCE IS THE GREATEST and most active force in the world. One cannot be passively nonviolent... . All society is held together by nonvio- lence, even as the earth is held in her position by gravitation. But when the law of gravitation was discovered the discov- ery yielded results of which our ancestors had no knowledge. Even so, when society is deliberately constructed in accordance with the law of nonviolence, its structure will be different in material particulars from what it is today.... An unjust law is itself a species of vio- lence. Arrest for its breach is more so. Now the law of nonviolence says that vio- lence should be resisted not by counter- violence but by nonviolence... . This I do by breaking the law and by peacefully submitting to arrest and imprisonment... . A nonviolent man or woman will and should die without retaliation, anger or malice, in self-defense or in defending the honor of his womenfolk. This is the highest form of bravery. If an individual or group of people are unable or unwill- ing to follow this great law of life, retalia- tion or resistance unto death is the second best, though a long way off from the first. Cowardice is impotence worse than violence.... The real love is to love them that hate you, to love your neighbor even though you distrust him. I have sound reasons for distrusting the English official world. If my love is sincere, I must love the Englishman in spite of my distrust. Of what avail is my loveifitbeonlysolongasItrustmy friend? Even thieves do that. © From Nonviolence in Peace and War (1948) he told his audience: “Civilization and violence are anti- thetical concepts. Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial and moral ques- tion of our time....The foundation of such a method is love... . I have the audacity to believe that peoples every- where can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” But it was inevitable that King, after seeing so many victories for humanity, from Montgomery to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Voting Rights Act in 1965, would question what he should do next. Those closest to him said he experienced bouts of depression. His critics wanted to see him retire permanently to his church in Atlanta, or take a quiet job as president of a black college. He said to his friend Bayard Rustin, “I sometimes wonder where I can go from here. I’ve accom- plished so much. What can I do now?” It was this question after 1965—what now?—that propelled King into Stage Three of his development, returning him to a conclusion he noted about our eco- nomic life as early as 1951: “It is a well- known fact that no social institution can survive when it has outlived its useful- ness. This capitalism has done. It has failed to meet the needs of the masses.” This last and greatest “dream” called for reforming capitalism to end poverty once and for all. For King, that goal translated, specifically, into an Economic Bill of Rights, the redistribution of wealth and a guaranteed income for all Americans. The superb historian Stephen B. Oates wrote eloquently of this final phase in Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “This hardly made King a Marxist. He meant it when he told his staff that Marx ‘got messed up’ when he failed to ‘see the spiritual undergirding of reali- ty’ and embraced an odious ‘ethical rel- ativism’ which led him to believe that the ends justified the means. And King continued to preach against the evils of Russia’s dictatorial communist state. No, somehow a better social order than communism or capitalism had to be constructed, one that creatively blend- ed the need for community and the need for individuality. Perhaps in this, his most imaginative, desperate, and far-reaching scheme, he could take his country a step closer to the realization of an old dream: the forging of a Christian commonwealth...” In hindsight, we know that King’s promotion of what I would call Christian Socialism influenced a gen- eration of black American leaders, from Huey Newton of the Black Panthers to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Had he lived and realized his “Washington Project” of leading the poor of all races and ethnic backgrounds to shut down the nation’s capital, King might have become the most dangerous man in America—the one public figure, much revered, who could potentially unify in his person and through the power of his moral authority the civil rights, labor and antiwar movements. But that was not to be. A metal-jack- eted 30.06 bullet ended his life on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, and with his death a glorious, tempestuous chapter in the history of this republic ended. That same year in one of his last sermons, “Unfulfilled Dreams,” King said, “And I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable.” He under- stood, as we all must, that hard-won spiritual and political triumphs can be lost in a single generation. In her biogra- phy, Coretta also speaks about the prob- lem of achieving a final victory for the ideals of social and economic justice in a world of change and impermanence: “One of the failings of the Movement was that, while we taught people to fight against the system, and how to respect themselves, we didn’t teach young people that they would have to fight all over again. As long as we have a democratic system we are going to have to work to protect our freedom and self-respect. And that is for blacks or whites or whatever color. Freedom is never guaranteed forever; ©CORBIS/MAGMA