King’s Way—Nonviolent Civil Disobedience
by George Paz Martin // A Pace e Bene Board Member—Originally printed in Riverwest Currents
Every time we get the news, we are struck by the tragic politics of our country’s leaders.
This, along with the epidemic of violence, poverty, racism, injustice, environmental destruction, and war, is evil and oppressive.
Dr. King stated, “First, nonviolence is resistance to evil and oppression. It is a human way to fight back.”
At sixteen, I was ten feet from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The problem today is that too much of America is still dreaming.
Today, far too many of us are frustrated with or suffer from the tragic state of our country. Now is the time to fight back politically through nonviolent direct action.
Nonviolence over the years has gained political progress through strong social movements: labor, civil rights, student, women, farm workers, anti-nuclear, LGBT and the anti-Vietnam and Iraq wars.
Significantly during the last 50 years, 50 non-representative governments, i.e. dictatorships and autocrats, crumbled due to nonviolent direct action including nonviolent civil disobedience.
During that same period, there were 30 military wars resulting in uncountable deaths, destruction and enormous financial cost with mixed results (per researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works).
When serving as a fellow at the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, our student peace studies group focuses on the Eastern European countries of Latvia, Estonia, Yugoslavia, and especially Poland whose nonviolent change of governments helped win the Cold War. In Poland, in the ‘70s, the Workers Movement used a diversity of tactics. In the ‘80s, key organizers like Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, read Gandhi and King. They decided on using nonviolent civil disobedience that brought about a democratic government.
The Arab Spring of revolutions in six countries began in Tunisia in 2010. Tunisia was the only Arab Spring country to have a completely nonviolent revolution and the only one that maintains its democracy today. Twice at World Social Forums, I witnessed Tunisians’ pride in their progressive democracy.
A 21st century movement for peace and social change has to be disciplined and nonviolent, allowing a new society to emerge.
The definition of an activist is one who campaigns for political or social change. The role of an activist is to move the public to affect the politicians. Our tools are education, lobbying and public witness—direct action. Direct action educates the public by raising up the issues for lobbying, defining political candidates’ positions and voting for the change we need.
During the last Iraq War, Peace Action of Wisconsin implemented 121 tactics of nonviolent direct action as defined by Dr. Gene Sharp, including seven actions of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Based upon Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy and practice of nonviolence, early last October, I trained dozens of fast-food workers from the Fight for $15/hr movement in the culture and discipline of nonviolent civil disobedience. In a successful demonstration at a McDonalds, 23 of us were peacefully arrested with good media coverage resulting in education for the public and McDonalds’ corporation and franchises. (See the Riverwest Currents November 2018 edition.)
On King’s Holiday, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Justice Coalition will honor those who have “Gone to Jail for Justice.” The MLK Justice Coalition will be recognizing those arrested from the Fight for $15/hr, the Poor People’s Campaign, Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee 14, School of the Americas Watch, the Catholic Workers, Peace Action of WI, student groups and the community.
Join us on Monday, January 21, 2019 for the 18th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Justice Coalition’s Program & March. The program begins at 1 pm at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1927 N. Vel Philips Ave. (4th & Brown), Milwaukee.
New programming: Peace Action of WI, beginning in February, will be hosting a monthly study program, “Engage,” for learning, practicing, and experimenting with the power of creative nonviolence in the Kingian Way.
(Author: George Paz Martin, an activist/educator/trainer, serves the Peace Action of WI Steering Committee and Campaign Nonviolence, Liberty Tree Foundation and Martin Luther King Jr. Justice Coalition Boards. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)