MLK: A Legacy of Nonviolent Democratic Resistance

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, why worship a graven image? Why not reflect that the work of economic democracy that he began was cut short by a gun?

As we debate the scourge of gun violence in America, why ignore the legacy of real patriot when we can instead sit at his feet and learn from his example?  World history has shown us that successful national revolutions – those that overturn autocratic systems for the sake of establishing democracy – have never come about from violence, but from non violent resistance. By contrast, armed revolutions, such as the French Revolution, and the one we see in Syria today, have ended in bloodshed and failure.

Nonviolence Works, not Guns

The list of nations that have achieved democratic aims through nonviolence is a long one indeed. It includes, among many others:

The Second Amendment In Perspective

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution are summarized below:

1 Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.
2 Right to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well regulated militia.
3 No quartering of soldiers.
4 Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
5 Right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy.
6 Rights of accused persons, e.g., right to a speedy and public trial.
7 Right of trial by jury in civil cases.
8 Freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments.
9 Other rights of the people.
10 Powers reserved to the states.

Passionate About Guns But Not Lives? – In today’s America, there is no shortage of people “passionate about guns.” The question is: why are they passionate about unneeded assault weapons instead of protecting lives? Do such people really naively believe that gun ownership is more likely to keep the government from infringing on their individual rights? The misnomer that the right to gun ownership keeps the power of the government in check couldn’t be more mistaken since armed resistance in fact makes it much easier for the government to crack down on civil resistance.

The Anachronistic 2nd Amendment – There is little doubt that the 2nd Amendment is anachronistic, pointing to the right of people to own guns expressly for the purpose of participating in state militias regulated by the Federal government, but there is also a sinister back story: Southern states lobbied for this amendment for the purpose of keeping slaves in check, establishing a long linkage of gun rights to racism that Martin Luther King was well aware of. Needless to say, whatever the 2nd Amendment does say, it clearly does not grant an unregulated right to bear arms.

Bottom Line: It’s a Decoy From the Real Threats – Another question for gun rights enthusiasts is whether they understand that it isn’t the second amendment that is threatened, but the others – the ones that guarantee freedom of expression, the right to peaceful protest (the 1st Amendment), due process of law (Amendments 4 – 8) and the principles of economic fairness. 

While the media turned attention to the silly 2nd Amendment debate, laws were quietly being passed to continue the erosion of civil liberties begun under GWB’s Patriot Act. No general alarm was raised over this substantive issue. Framing the debate in this way has been an effective means of sweeping the larger question of citizens’ rights under the rug.

Economic Fairness and the Other Amendments

The First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech, assembly and petition were violated by the Federal government as the Department of Homeland Security coordinated the crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation. Another violation of the First Amendment rights occurred as “Right to Work laws” were implemented to undermine labor unions on the state level.

The 9th and 10th Amendments speak to economic fairness issues by prohibiting the federal government from doing what it was not authorized by the U.S. Constitution to do, limiting the powers of the federal government such that a person challenging a federal law as violating his/her “rights,” does not have to prove that the “right” they are talking about is a right mentioned by the Constitution. The burden is on the federal government to prove that it does have authority to make that law.

In violation of these rights, courts across the nation, since the time of Justice Lewis Powell have established a body of decisions culminating in  the Citizens United decision conveyed “personhood” on corporations, holding corporate interests above individual rights.

Today’s Threat: Capitalism Without Democracy

Two Important American Political Revolutions:  There were two recent political revolutions with regard to economic democracy that changed the course of our economic landscape and the fortunes of the working class:

  • Franklin’s Roosevelt’s New Deal, carried on by his successors, especially Lyndon Johnson and his “Great Society.” This, along with the rise of the labor union movement, gave birth to the great American middle class.
  • The Reagan Revolution, which began the dismantling of worker rights and culminated in historical wealth inequity, mass unemployment, and the steady decline of the American middle class.

The Reagan Revolution culminated in the primacy of corporate rights over individual rights, and decades of policies that have redistributed wealth and opportunity upward from the working class to the wealthiest 2%. Today’s most important civil rights issue is the collapse of the consumer economy and the middle class, phenomena no longer questioned by those economists and observers who carefully study the economic trends.

The Next Important Movement: Workers’ Rights

MLK Points the Way: Fortunately, the problem is quite clearly documented, and the answer is already tried and proven. The same pro-labor policies that created the middle class, including anti-trust enforcement and union expansion, can reverse its demise.

History shows that what is needed is to follow Martin Luther King’s vision by clamoring to reverse the anti-individual, pro-corporate trends begun in the 1970s. Reversing the trend requires that we restore a place at the corporate table for the two disenfranchised major stakeholders: labor and the consumer. 

As   and  of 99Rise put it here:

 The answer to this question lies in a deeper, systemic threat to MLK’s dream. This threat — the corruption of our democracy by Big Money — was gravely intensified by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision decided on MLK Day 2010. Because of this corruption…the very process of ostensibly democratic governance have become fundamentally dominated by and dependent upon high-dollar financial contributions that come almost entirely from less than 1 percent of the American people.

…It is this subtle, hidden, systemic corruption that explains why a progressive president with a massive mandate and a supermajority of Democrats in both houses of Congress in his first two years of office was unable or unwilling to take on the worst of the 1 percent — the funding class — on issues ranging from real Wall Street reform, public health insurance, a sustainable energy and climate policy, labor law reform or a progressive tax policy to address our fiscal challenges.

…Civil rights and environmental justice leader Van Jones has said “getting big money out of politics is the closest thing to a silver bullet for the 99 percent.” Indeed, this is the issue at the root of nearly all of America’s problems that stand in the way of realizing MLK’s dream, from the mass incarceration of people of color in the private prison industrial complex to the unwillingness of our nation’s leaders to do anything to address or mitigate the devastating effects of global climate change…The American public realizes this — poll after poll finds that the vast majority of Americans believe there is too much corporate and super-rich money in our politics.

Thankfully, another part of King’s legacy offers us an answer to the question it poses.

…Just as movements before ours, from the abolitionists to the suffragettes to the civil rights movement, used nonviolent direct action to speak directly to the soul of the American people and create the political crises necessary to win the democratic changes of their day, so must the growing movement to reclaim and restore our democracy…The Occupy movement and democratic and anti-austerity movements like it across the globe in recent years have reminded us of the power of mass nonviolent action to shift a nation’s narrative and open long-closed doors to historic change. The time has come for Americans of conscience to commit to fulfilling our nation’s founding promise and Martin Luther King’s visionary dream by embracing the tactic of mass nonviolent civil disobedience, with its proven track record of making the impossible possible.

 In short, capitalism without democracy doesn’t work, or, more precisely, it works only in the interests of the top 2% of the economy.

Whether it will take a broad economic collapse to bring home this point remains to be seen.  But for democracy to work, what is required is broad participation of “we the people,” ie. the working class who founded the nation (the founders were not wealthy) and whose labor built the economic behemoth.  

It starts with refocusing the discussion on real economic change – not the distracting and largely bogus issues, like gun rights and the national debt,  but corporate practices, the gaming of the political system and support for workers’ rights. That is the path back to prosperity based on democratic capitalism.