Martin Luther King Jr., revolutionary

446px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS_4A revolutionary is one who self-consciously advocates collective action to remake a society’s defining institutions through unconventional action, from below. Not just in the last years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. was one such revolutionary.

Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait, 1963:

Summer came, and the weather was beautiful. But the climate, the social climate of American life, erupted into lightning flashes, trembled with thunder and vibrated to the relentless, growing rain of protest come to life through the land. Explosively, America’s third revolution—the Negro Revolution—had begun.

For the first time in the long and turbulent history of the nation, almost one thousand cities were engulfed in civil turmoil, with violence trembling just below the surface. Reminiscent of the French Revolution of 1789, the streets had become a battleground; just as they had become the battleground in the 1830’s of England’s tumultuous Chartist movement. As in these two revolutions, a submerged social group, propelled by a burning need for justice, lifting itself with sudden swiftness, moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger, created an uprising so powerful that it shook a huge society from its comfortable base.

Never in American history had a group seized the streets, the squares, the sacrosanct business thoroughfares and the marbled halls of government to protest and proclaim the unendurability of their oppression. Had room-sized machines turned human, burst from the plants that housed them and stalked the land in revolt, the nation could not have been more amazed. Undeniably, the Negro had been an object of sympathy and wore the scars of deep grievances, but the nation had come to count on him as a creature who could quietly endure, silently suffer, and patiently wait. He was well trained in service and, whatever the provocation, he neither pushed back nor spoke back.

Just as lightning makes no sound until it strikes, the Negro revolution generated quietly. But when it struck, the revealing flash of its power and the impact of its sincerity fervor displayed a force of a frightening intensity. Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper. The storm clouds did not release a “gentle rain from heaven,” but a whirlwind, which has not yet spent its force or attained its full momentum.

Martin Luther King, 1968:

There is a second group of young people, presently small in number but dynamic and growing. They are the radicals. They range from moderate to extreme in the degree to which they want to alter the social system. All of them agree that only by structural change can current evils be eliminated because the roots are in the system rather than in man or in faulty operations. This is a new breed of radicals. Very few adhere to any established ideology or dogma: Some borrow from old doctrines of revolution, but practically all of them suspend judgment on what the form of the new society must be. They are in serious revolt against old values and have not yet concretely formulated the new ones. … Ironically, their rebellion comes from having been frustrated in seeking change within the framework of the existing society. They tried to build racial equality and met tenacious and vicious opposition. They worked to end the Vietnam war and experienced futility.

In their concern for higher social values [the radicals] were thwarted by a combination of material abundance and spiritual poverty that stifled a pure creative outlook. And so they seek a fresh start with new rules in a new order. … Their radicalism grows because the power structure of today is unrelenting in defending not only its social system but the evils it contains. … Whether they read Gandhi or Fanon, all the radicals understand the need for action—direct, self-transforming and structure-transforming action. This may be their most creative collective insight.

This second passage comes from “A New Sense of Direction,” one of King’s last overall strategic reflections before his assassination. It was delivered at a SCLC staff meeting and its private audience allowed for additional candor. If you want to read one piece on MLK’s strategic thinking, after a lifetime of organizing, this is it. On the other hand, if you want to read a whole book, buy Michael Eric Dyson’s I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr, and donate it to a library when you’re done.

See also: Martin Luther King on Riots and Property Destruction.

Laidoff Green Economy Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago

[Yes, more of an overview update is coming soon; there’s been big news in the past two months. The bailout has morphed into something bigger, with both interesting and scandalous implications (some times at the same time); we have a new president; anti-authoritarians have some interesting things to think through around grassroots political campaigning, public works projects and an economic crisis, etc. Plus, Thai mass direct action just brought down a government. But everything starts somewhere, so let’s start with a new kind of protest..]

In Chicago, the economic crisis hit the road in the form of worker suddenly cut off from their jobs at Republic Windows and Doors (company website here). Republic’s (apparently one and only) factory closed Friday, three days after its 260 workers were notified. Standard notice is sixty days. Severance and unused vacation for the workers have not been paid. In response:

Members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, which represents 260 workers at the company’s Goose Island plant, have taken shifts at a sit-in at the plant, 1333 N. Hickory Ave., since Friday. (Chicago Tribune)

Scores of workers laid off from a factory here that makes windows and doors have refused to leave, deciding to stage a “peaceful occupation” of the plant around the clock this weekend as they demand pay they say is owed them.

[…]

The workers, many of whom were sitting on fold-up chairs on the factory floor Saturday afternoon, said they would not leave.

“They’re staying because the fact is that these workers feel they have nothing to lose at this point,” said Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110, who said groups of 30 were occupying the plant in shifts. “Telling them they have three days before they are out on the street, penniless, is outrageous.” (NYT)

Clearly, this is the face of the overall downturn: we saw 533,000 lost jobs in November, bringing the total ot 1.9 million in the current recession. It’s also the front end of the bailout: Bank of America, backed up by our bailout, is Republic Windows and Doors’ creditor, and is accused by workers of not releasing the funds for the company to meet its obligations. Bank of America, by the way now includes ABN AMRO North America, FleetBoston, LaSalle Bank, NationsBank, predatory lender Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch, credit card giant MBNA. As of July, after taking on Countrywide, the company controlled between 20 to 25 percent of the home loan market. As Jobs with Justice reminds us, “Bank of America has received $25 billion in bailout funds, ostensibly in order to extend credit to companies that need it.”

You can back up their protest with letters to Bank of America here.

Now screening on the East Coast: In-depth look at Anti-war Shutdown of San Francisco

SF Chron Cover on Day X
SF Chron Cover on Day X

SHUTDOWN: The Rise & Fall of Direct Action to Stop the War is an in-depth documentary exploration of a piece of the continuous struggle towards
social justice. Using the March 20, 2003 occupation and disruption of the San Francisco Financial District as a case study, the film casts a thoughtful eye on one of the most successful actions of the current anti-war movement, facilitated by Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW). Created to gain insight, inspire, and draw lessons the movie tells the story of how social justice organizers and everyday people came together to plan and shut down the financial district of a major US city.

Created by people directly involved with the organizing, SHUTDOWN utilizes on-the-street footage, news clips and interviews with 17 key participants. It is a people’s history made in support of the movement against war and
empire, aiming to galvanize resistance and further critical analysis in cities and towns throughout the country.

Join the film makers for a presentation & discussion on the future of mass direct action strategies to end the war.

**Upcoming East Coast Screenings**
Wednesday, July 09
7:00 PM
Bluestockings Booikstore, NYC
172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington

Thursday, July 10 7:00PM
St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, Rochester
402 South Ave.

Saturday, July 12 7:30PM
Wooden Shoe Bookstore, Philadelphia
508 s. 5th street

Monday, July 14 6:00 – 9:00 PM
Hartford, CT
Location TBA

For a promotional flyer, preview, and more
check out the website at www.shutdownthemovie.com.
For more info or questions please send an email to daswvideo@riseup.net
[Full disclosure: I’m one of the “17 key participants” interviewed in the film]

More background on the SF antiwar movement in 2003-04: From Piece Movement to Peace Movement: San Francisco Self-Organizes to Implode Empire by Patrick Reinsborough