Apathy is easy. Going with the flow is simple. Accepting the systems and structures and institutions as they stand feels so uncomplicated. And each of these things will kill us all.
Today, we remember Martin Luther King, Jr., and his nonviolent, passionate work for civil rights and for justice. Even as he insisted on nonviolent tactics, he insisted that we must act.
Nonviolence is not the same as passivity. Nonviolence can cause great tension and great conflict. Any action against those in authority, against the status quo, is going to be difficult, but committing to nonviolent action is even more difficult. But it is absolutely necessary. A mere gesture is never enough to cause real change. Action must be taken, and it must be taken sooner rather than later.
It is because of the brave that we are all freer now than we were sixty years ago. And it is through continued bravery that freedom and justice will continue to advance.
People give all sorts of reason for inaction. “You’re just causing trouble!” “You’re just launching hateful attacks for no reason!” “We have to just trust God and everything will turn out all right!”
Those who engage in nonviolent action, in protest, are not the ones causing trouble. They are pointing out the trouble that is already there, and mobilizing to end it. Bringing problems to the forefront is a very uncomfortable, painful process but it is absolutely necessary. A community that sweeps everything under the rug will eventually be eaten from the inside by corruption, or taken over by those who don’t have its best interests at heart, or it will simply wither and die from so much rottenness. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:
“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
As to allegations of baseless attacks, listen to the evidence first. Is the protestors’ argument reasonable? Do their grievances have logic and evidence to back them up? Maybe you don’t agree with their reasoning but is it at least sound? I ask you to respectfully consider their claims; do not write them off immediately. And how many people are involved? I’m not saying that force of numbers makes everything okay, but I am saying that an organized group of individuals articulating real concerns commands some level of respect, even if you don’t agree with them.
Finally, to those who simply trust God to fix everything: God’s work is done through human agents. We cannot build a better future without picking up a hammer. Justice doesn’t just happen. It is caused, catalyzed, by people acting. By people working hard. By people handing out fliers, distributing petitions, asking questions, creatively using common materials like duct tape or clothing or spray paint to bring issues to the forefront and force something to be done. And when unjustice or underhanded dealings are the order of the day among those in authority, those who hold little authority need to speak up.
In the end, if you have never done anything at all against the way the world is now, you’re saying you’re totally okay with everything that's going on. It doesn’t take much to contribute to the fight against evil. Donations, signatures on petitions, raising awareness through social media or through wearing a particular color, is all a little contribution. Of course it’s better to do more. Take today to think about how you can take specific action for justice and truth and freedom in the coming year. Maybe there’s something this week, even, that can be done. Now, remembering that people going before you have given their lives, go out there and do it. (& I have been working on an opportunity to fight injustice as well, so I'm not just saying this while sitting back on my couch with my feet up. More on that in the future).