You'll Probably Change the World: A New Year's Resolution from Martin Luther King Jr.
This past year I've reflected a lot on the Civil Rights Movement, in part because the-fifty-year anniversaries of seminal moments in the movement keep popping up on the calendar, but mostly because the news is filled with regular reminders that the fight for basic human rights is far from over. I find myself turning regularly to the writings of Martin Luther King, the movement's most public and prolific champion of nonviolent direct social action as a force for cultural change. White memory of the Civil Rights Movement tends, I think, to focus on its emphasis on nonviolence. It's noble, poetic and, of course, absent of conflict. What's not to like? But this memory is selective at best, sentimental at worst. The notion of nonviolence divorced from direct action removes virtually all value from it; nonviolence becomes docility, meekness, impotence. Introduce direct action and white memory quickly becomes uncomfortable, because the nonviolence of demonstrators for civil rights was contrasted with the despicable violence of its opponents. TWEET THIS: The notion of nonviolence divorced from direct action removes virtually all value from it. The graphic novel March (volume two of three comes out in early 2015) does a great job of describing, in prose and pictures, the violent reactions to nonviolent direct action; more compellingly even, it portrays the discipline and spiritual preparation that came before every action. TWEET THIS: Even nonviolent campaigns for justice don't succeed without a fight. You prepare yourself for a fight. What follows, quoted from King's book Why We Can't Wait, is how the soldiers in the battle for civil rights in America prepared themselves for their fight. It strikes me that these are not casual commitments; you don't just do them until they've gotten you what you want. These are lifestyle commitments, life-changing commitments. They lend themselves to far more than nonviolent direct action, actually: commit yourself to these things and you'll probably get into some trouble; but commit yourself to these things and you'll probably change the world.
I HEREBY PLEDGE MYSELF—MY PERSON AND BODY—TO THE NONVIOLENT MOVEMENT.
THEREFORE I WILL KEEP THE FOLLOWING TEN COMMANDMENTS:
I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.
TWEET THIS: Commit yourself to these things and you'll probably change the world.
- MEDITATE daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
- REMEMBER always that the nonviolent movement ... seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory.
- WALK and TALK in the manner of love, for God is love.
- PRAY daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
- SACRIFICE personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
- OBSERVE with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
- SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world.
- REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
- STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
- FOLLOW the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.