As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. today, I know the tendency is to boil down his essence to having a dream that one day his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” And that’s a beautiful thought, one that we should absolutely aspire to. All of us, no matter our race, religion or creed. But that was exactly what he said it was: a dream.
However, Martin Luther King Jr. did more than just dream. He acted. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the Selma to Montgomery March, the Poor People’s Campaign and the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike. These were all issues that required action. They required speaking truth to power. They required challenging the very structures of power. They required putting one’s own self, their very body, on the line. All nonviolently. They faced an entrenched system that denied them the right to vote, the right to equal education, the right to fair accommodation. The right to person-hood. A system that had no problem beating them, using dogs on them, turning fire hoses on them and yes, killing them.
And yet they forced it all to change.
Indeed, it is still in the process of changing. But it never would have if they hadn’t demanded it. And here’s the amazing thing: They didn’t need guns. They didn’t need body armor. All they needed was the truth. And the conviction to shine a light on that truth no matter the consequences.
So when I see groups like the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Boys and Michigan Militia turn out to protest — as some of them did Sunday in Lansing and at capitals across the nation — I don’t see power. I see weakness. I don’t see conviction. I see doubt. I don’t see bravery. I see fear. But most of all, I see a path to failure.
I’m not an optimist by nature. To say I’m a “glass half-empty” kind of person is likely soft selling it. But I wholeheartedly identify with Dr. King when he said in his 1964 speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize: “We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. Love is the key to the solution of the problems of the world.”
I’ll stick with love.