My feets is tired, but my soul is rested
Mother Pollard was one of the participants in the 1955–1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King Jr. recounted that after several weeks of walking to her destinations rather than take the bus, Mother Pollard was asked if she was tired, to which she replied, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” She was 72 years old. This quote is significant to me because it is the opposite of conformity, where one is comfortable but the soul is restless.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written by Dr. King when he was 34 years old in 1963. He was imprisoned for coordinating marches and sit-ins in Birmingham, Alabama, a means of non-violent resistance as a call for civil rights.
While King sat in his jail cell an ally smuggled in a newspaper, which contained a public statement by eight white clergymen condemning Dr. King’s work and his activist fight against racism. Dr. King began his famous letter in the margins of the paper, with a borrowed pencil, and continued writing on other scraps of paper until he had completed the letter.
Although being black in the USA remains a risk factor in the twenty-first century, a black person has a significant probability of being shot in a routine traffic stop, the civil rights movement led by King was successful in abolishing blatant segregation and it is a good model of social activism.
There are many instances of injustice and social disfunction, like Palestine and environmental degradation, that can benefit from social activism a la King.
Social unrest is a ferocious monster that sometimes is unleashed by external forces for nefarious purposes, the case of Syria comes to mind. The Birmingham clerics that wrote the appeal to the black community of Birmingham to withdraw support from the civil rights movement are the bad guys in this picture. But it must be acknowledged that street disturbances are more acceptable in faraway places than in one’s own backyard. The main problem today is not overt racism and such, but the subtle disdain of those King calls “white moderates.”
King´s recommendation for nonviolent activism is his four steps:
1. Collection of the facts to determine whether injustice is alive
4. Direct action
In today’s world the first two steps are problematic, particularly in the USA, where liberals and conservatives are now so polarized and see the world differently. Republicans and Democrats in America are living in different information environments. 60 percent of Republicans name Fox News as a source they trust to be reliable. After that, numbers plummeted. CNN and local news were tied at 4 percent each, and all others at 3 percent or less, The New York Times got 0 percent.
Democrats, by contrast, were spread out over multiple different sources. CNN was most trusted, at 21 percent. NPR was next, with 15 percent. From there the numbers flattened out quickly, showing 3-7 percent for a range of others, including the BBC (5 percent), New York Times (5 percent) and PBS News (4 percent).
Also, because formally the USA is an integrated and egalitarian country, it is not clear what to negotiate, or with whom.
Self-purification and direct action remain relevant, although difficult to concretize, concepts. We must first conquer ourselves, overcome our biases and moral limitations, do no harm, help whenever we can. This must be taken like AA suggests, one day at a time. This does not mean that one must look at Reality as unconnected isolated events that must be handled as they arise. We must be proactive in looking for and addressing the root-causes, and at the same time, work every day in seeing clearly and acting right.