September 2007


At the end of perhaps the greatest sermon in history, Jesus of Nazareth said,

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

The difference, Jesus says, is in the doing. 2000 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,

America has been something of a divided personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy, but on the other hand we have sadly practiced the very opposite of these principles.

Dr. King pointed out that we have a problem with the doing. Notice, too, that he didn’t say we had a problem practicing equality; he said we had a problem practicing democracy.

The word democracy is Greek and means ‘rule by the people.’ According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics, the first question of democracy is “who are to count as ‘the people?’” That question is at the heart of the most fundamental problem of U.S. history. It also brings us back to the problem of actually doing what it is that we say we believe. It gets back to Dr. King’s question of whether we will do what we say we will do.

Thomas Jefferson justified our disloyalty to, and war with, England with these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Dr. King pointed out that the Declaration of Independence “doesn’t say ‘some men,’ it says ‘all men.’ It doesn’t say ‘all white men,’ it says ‘all men.’”

It has always been amazing to me that throughout the struggle for abolition/emancipation in the 1860s, and 100 years later during the civil rights movement, African Americans did not make arguments that the language of the founding was too narrow or too exclusive. Rather, they often quoted that language because they recognized that it wasn’t the language that was insufficient. It is not the language which fails us; it is our inability to believe in, and act upon, the claims made in that language. In other words, our failure as a nation isn’t that we need a new mandate, it is that we have not lived up to the mandate we started with.

This is very poignant to me because Jefferson himself had neither the capacity nor the courage to believe his own words. He relied on the institution of slavery personally and although other duties kept him from the Constitutional Convention, there is little doubt that he would have been willing to ignore his own Declaration of human equality—and dehumanize African American enslaved persons to the legal status of three-fifths of a person, and devoid of human rights—in order to form a union between the thirteen colonies.

This reminds me of Jesus and Caiaphas, the high priest. In the Gospel According to Saint John, Caiaphas and his council said,

If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

In this passage, Caiaphas does not mean to be prophesying about the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but rather of the expedience of killing this popular and dangerous man in order to keep peace.

When I think of Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, I have to relate it to Caiaphas. Dr. King, like St. John, was able to see the wisdom in the words of people who didn’t have a full understanding of what they themselves were saying.

It is with that perspective that I relate Jefferson and King to immigration. When are we, as a nation, actually going to believe that all humans are equal? When will accept that “there are no gradations in the image of God,” and that “all men are equal in intrinsic worth.”? When will we see that creating the classification illegal immigrant “substitutes an ‘I-It’ relationship for the ‘I-Thou’ relationship and relegates persons to the status of things.”? This isn’t only evident when people use the adjective “illegal” as a noun (thus stripping the humanity of the individual away, leaving only the legal status). It is seen when we—a country who claims that rights are not given to citizens because of their relationship with the state, but rather to persons because of human kind’s relationship with our Creator—acknowledge the rights of some, but not of others. This is the epitome of dehumanization. My personal humanity refuses to allow me to treat my fellow humans as a function of their legal status simply because “this nation” has yet to “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

It is this basic belief, this basic sense of justice and fairness, this basic sense of humanity–and our distance from those ideas–that forces me to entertain the ideas of civil disobedience. If this is not a law that morality requires me to break (aiding a so-called illegal immigrant), there never was such a thing.

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It’s been a long time since we lived the idea that people are innately good. Just laws, the kind of legislation our country was founded upon, enable and protect the innate goodness of the individual against the circumstantial evils of a few. Unjust laws, however, demean this innate goodness by making criminals out of innocents. The country with the most laws is the most corrupt.

 

Unjust laws of citizenship can be explained by the fixation of American culture on the unpredictable, “evil” nature of people rather than the more common goodness of the individual. Fear, or terror, born out of a single event one September, has come to shape not only our war policy but also the way we internally police our nation and stalk our borders.

 

It’s been a long time since we remembered that people are good.

 

King writes it this way: “We have allowed our civilization to outdistance our culture…Civilization refers to what we use; culture refers to what we are…” America needs, has in fact always needed, immigrants and new citizens to keep its economy and culture vital. But throughout our history, from the Alien Act of 1798 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the citizenship literacy test of 1917 and the first nation-based “emergency” quota system of 1921, our country has operated in a schizophrenic manner, not wanting or welcoming the very immigrants which made it great. The Know-Nothing party, created for the sole purpose of opposing my immigrant ancestors the Irish Catholics, lives on in the Minutemen and now the inglorious border wall. We have consistently despised the very things which make us strong. It was only the innate goodness of man, coupled with divine Providence, that these opposing forces never gained the upper hand and tyrannically ended immigration

 

“The great problem confronting us today is that we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live.” As a nation, America is materialistically wealthy but spiritually poor, full of knowledge but too often without wisdom. Capitalism, with its unseen hand of the marketplace, does whatever it can to keep the prices down and sales up; as a result, low-wage labor provided by immigrants has become an integral part of our national GDP. American citizens defend their rights as consumers but too often lose sight of the ends for which we live. As King writes, “As long as there is poverty in this wold, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars.” In the same vein, no one can be a citizen if there is someone living within our borders who is denied the basic rights of other residents.

 

It’s been too long since we made legislation which affirms the fact that man, made in God’s own image, is good and deserving of certain inalienable rights, alien or not.

 

IN this world of globalization, we must realize that the tenets this country was based upon do not apply merely to the continental U.S. but to the world at large. Globalization must have regulations, indeed, but we are hopelessly interconnected now so that the fate of one “illegal” immigrant is the fate of so many others. This new concept of the world begs a revised definition of the term “citizen;” how much longer can our nation exist with its double-standard for citizenship, with its 14 million right-less residents working to sustain the rights and wealth of the rest of our nation. We must come to terms that the way our nation stands right now, my rights are secured because someone else’s are denied; my paycheck is buoyed by the sub-standard wages of illegal immigrants we economically need and legislatively condemn.

 

It’s been too long since we recalled the goodness in our fellow man, in the global community, in our bordering neighbors, in all our residents of this great land.

 

The American dream reminds us that every man is heir to the legacy of worthiness.” And so, we must conclude that a nation which holds tight to restrictive, antiquated quote systems has forgotten the worth of the individual. We must reason that a nation which closes Ellis Island, hunts immigrants, and deports workers must not view people as an asset any longer, but as a burden. Far from being overpopulated, our nation’s immigration legislation heralds the arrogant notion that we already have everyone we need within our borders. But we know better than that. We must “in-source” ideas from Gandhi’s India, ideas about the importance of man and nonviolence. We must remember that people are good, not goods or commodities or without rights.

 

It’s been too long since we remembered the goodness of which we are capable and the means by which every one of us arrived at our blessed rights.

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**late posting for last Sunday Sept. 16, 2007**

 

Foreign policy by the US government has built countries such as Germany and Japan after World War II while at the same time destroyed other countries such as Cuba, Mexico, Philippines, and Indonesia since the “Cold War”. Countries that were destroyed had their government severely disrupted or replaced and its citizenry were forced to survive on either imposed sanctions or military invasion. Faced with such horrible circumstances many people were forced to migrate and some have come to the very oppressor’s homeland. Those citizens have been innocently attacked in their home country and again in the oppressor’s homeland.

 

This essay will argue how the US governments immigration laws are unjust using the teachings from Martin Luther King’s Jr. “Love, Law & Civil Disobedience”. It will examine the relationship between the Mexican immigrants and the United States government as a sample of the overall global immigration movement that continuously occurs to this very day. And finally will develop a praxis on the overall ideas argued.

 

Martin Luther King’s Jr. “Love, Law & Civil Disobedience” discusses just/unjust laws, suffering, love, and peace which form the principles of nonviolence civil disobedience. The civil rights movement utilized King’s teachings to overturn the injustices facing the community of African-Americans. Indeed King mentions all struggle between exploited and oppressors can be waged with either violence, apathy or nonviolence. He emphasizes that nonviolence is the most appropriate means to the ends of freedom, justice, and liberation since “immoral destructive means cannot bring about moral & constructive ends”. He cites various examples of success but one great example was the struggle of the Abolitionists against the US government slave laws; they consistently used civil disobedience to successfully end the unjust and blatant inhumane laws.

 

Using King’s interpretation of unjust laws, it is immediately apparent that the US government laws are once again problematic. As before with the slave and racial segregation laws the US government immigration laws were passed in exclusion of the inflicted minority. King describes such laws as unjust since the “minority had no right to vote…so that the legislative bodies that made these laws were not democratically elected”. Whenever a law is enacted without a true democratic process, that is the inclusion of those who will be affected, is a cause for questioning the law’s morality and, ultimately, its justice.

 

King understood that suffering can bring about social change and can occur by either enacting violence unto others or by taking unearned violence. He also described love to be “understanding, creative, redemptive, goodwill to all…” and “…which seeks nothing in return”. And how two types of peace commonly share an absence of tension but one is defined as negative since it is with unjust laws while the other define as positive is with just laws and love.

 

The immigrants coming from various parts of the globe are similar to the African-American who lived in Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama prior to and during the civil rights movement. Both groups suffered severe and unwarranted economic racism and institutionalized segregation. Both have been excluded from participating in any form of dialog or democratic process concerning those very same laws that were inflicted upon them. And both have been victimized by the same oppressor, namely the United States government. The differences are geographic and citizenship. The African-Americans during that time period, some would argue that it still goes on now, have been singled out as second-class citizens in their own country through unjust domestic laws that have caused violent suffering and impoverishment. Whereas undocumented immigrants have been classified as “Aliens”, now possible “Terrorists”, through unjust foreign policy laws that have caused violent suffering and impoverishment in their home country.

The current relationship between the Mexican undocumented immigrants and the US government as describe by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) illustrates the extent of the US government foreign policy on the undocumented immigrants home countries. NAFTA has brought new exploitative wage jobs and has flooded Mexico with extremely cheap US government subsidized corn that have priced local farmers out of the market.1 These laws have brought about a combination of negative peace, great unearned suffering to the citizens of Mexico, and migration with complete disregard of the political/economic barriers that is almost entirely based on love for their families.

 

Whether conscious or not the citizens of Mexico who have come undocumented into the US are engaged in civil disobedience. Indeed every citizen who immigrates illegally to the US from a foreign country that has been inflicted unjustly by US foreign policy is practicing what can be called the New World Order’s Civil Disobedience. They are all engaged in the struggle of our time between enslavement by unjust law and true freedom. This new wave of “NWO Civil Disobedience” must now also be undertaken by the citizens of the US who are aware of the overall injustice that these global immigrants face. Doing so will immediately stop the cooperation with evil foreign policy that is now further deepening the cesspool of hate, war, and eventual hell on earth.

1: Dolores Huerta; http://www.msmagazine.com/spring2007/backtalk.asp

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I have enjoyed reading the other posts, but as time limits my post will be short … I have a few thoughts to add, or reiterate as the case may be.
At first look it seems like we are comparing two injustices, one based on race and the other based on nationality. But I want to be sure it is acknowledged that the immigration debate is deeply rooted in racial prejudice. Washington loves to frame the issue as a clear citizen vs. non-citizen issue, but when “illegal immigration” is mentioned, the racial other, the Mexican, is pictured. The border wall makes this all the more apparent. Just as southern state laws sought to keep African Americans as an economic underclass with no political power, immigration laws today seek to keep Mexicans as an economic underclass with no political power. Immigration laws may look like they are meant to keep Mexicans out, but they don’t really—-rather they keep Mexicans illegal, cheap, and quiet. It’s no secret that much of the economy is highly dependent on cheap labor, and I’ve done enough restaurant worker organizing to be confident in saying many employers will knowingly accept a fake SS card as readily as they will accept a 19 year old’s fake i.d. when selling alcohol. Immigration laws are unjust and deceptive. They do not serve the purpose that many Americans are convinced they are meant to do.

So although the problem of non-citizenship is sticky, I think a large part of the problem that must be overcome is the racial and economic side. As long as Mexicans and Mexican Americans are seen as a racial other, people will continue to support racist legislation such as the border wall. As long as Mexican workers provide labor for less than minimum wage, immigration laws will continue to restrict legal immigration to those who can afford it.

Illegal immigrant workers are increasingly vocal but their limitations are obvious (losing their job, deportation). The status quo would have them “adjust themselves to oppression” as Dr. King might say, by doing their job and receiving their pay quietly and without complaint. But their potential is overwhelming, their numbers more than enough to make major change. Just as Dr. King brought dignity and confidence to a group of people who were intimidated and “adjusted” to their position, the same can be done with illegal immigrants in the U.S.

I can’t wrap up my comments neatly and conclusively with a positive plan for action. The words aren’t coming. Maybe next week.

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“A just law is a law that squares with a moral law…[An unjust law] does not square with the law of God, so for that reason it is unjust and any law that degrades the human personality is an unjust law.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., could very well have been addressing today’s crisis in citizenship here in the United States of America. Our antiquated laws and quota systems are, at best unfair, prohibitive, and degrading. Public discourse surrounding illegal immigrants and those who have simply overstayed their visas runs the gamut between vitriolic slander and patronizing relegation to the lowest rung of American society. Both groups have kept illegal immigrants, or extralegal citizens, out of the public discourse and unable to campaign for betterment. There are those who would happily accept these immigrants, insomuch as they maintain their status as the thankless workers of our most menial jobs; there are also those who would peg them as would-be terrorists, tax-evaders, drug-smugglers, and an evil black-market population. These are the groups behind the laws, these are the opposition to any movement towards giving rights to extralegal citizens.

In “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,” King writes that “…an unjust law is a code that the majority inflicts on the minority that is not binding on itself…this becomes difference made legal.” The current path towards legal immigration and lawful citizenship is based on luck or birthright rather than the ideals we Americans supposedly hold so dear – that is, education, work ethic, and the family unit. At once, it is painfully obvious that only the rich, the connected, and the politically allied will ever get a chance to enter this nation of so many citizens of birthright. In much the same way that King fought a racial battle in the civil rights movement, this movement towards legalizing extralegal citizens aims at an equality based not on the color of your skin or the color of your country on the globe but on the content of your character, your willingness to be a productive member of society.

 

This movement faces two defiant obstacles, however, obstacles which Martin Luther King, Jr. himself did not even have to face. The first is to produce self-respect and self-worth in this burgeoning population of extralegal citizens. King had the good fortune of leading a minority with enormous self-pride (after the Harlem Renaissance and their emergence as key entertainers in the 1950s and 1960s). It is difficult, however, to rally around the term “illegal immigrant,” as it is necessarily a negative, demeaning term. However, these people in their defiant desire to become members of our society exhibit the very ideals we hold in utmost esteem in these United States. It is vital to impart respect to these would-be citizens, who have been demeaned and talked-down to by every form of media available in the U.S. Few will respect them so long as they remain subservient, quiet workers of fundamental importance; yet, as soon as they lift up their heads and their voices, the entire nation must needs hear their pleas if only because of the grinding, shrieking sound of a cog in our country’s most necessary gears. Could the United States wage a war at $200 million dollars a day if these 12 million undocumented immigrants recognized their own importance and ceased working? Could the United States continually put off the pressing question of immigration and quotas if it no longer had the luxury of cheap labor in the meantime? Therefore, these immigrants’ self-respect is a vital aspect of any nonviolent movement towards legalization.

 

The second obstacle is obscurity. King’s civil disobedience thrived on the fact that “…suffering can be a most creative and powerful social force…suffering becomes a powerful social force when you willingly accept that violence on yourself.” This is inevitably true, but for too long, the suffering of illegal immigrants has been one of quiet acquiescence. All too often, raids and roundups are done quietly, and these extralegal citizens are detained indefinitely and then deported in the dead of night. Scant media coverage and the lack of key public advocates has negated and nullified much of this suffering.

Private suffering is always self-destructive, in that it validates the aggressor and belittles the victim. King writes that, “…unearned suffering is redemptive,” and I keenly understand this to be true. However, that suffering must have its witnesses. The key to transforming this nonviolent movement from one of a silent mass to a vocal, suffering minority is making these indecencies and unconscionable acts very public. Up to this point, most immigrants have suffered more or less alone, feeling cut off from any sort of legal aid, severed from community ties, and hampered by a very real language barrier. This must change if there is to be a sweeping reform of our present system.

 

“…peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, it is the present of a positive force. True peace is not merely the absence of tension, but it is the presence of justice and brotherhood.” Silent suffering and a lack of self-respect are both forms of negative peace, whereas suffering made public must always reach the ears of true citizens and a people proud of their own worth have always garnered more value in society. As we discuss the means by which we can legalize much of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., we must be constantly reminded that the end is a transformation of the term citizen. Ultimately, any systemic changes with quota, visa applications, and immigration policies must recognize a shift in the way we classify citizens of these United States. It is not enough to simply relax regulations for temporary work visas, because this will never address the pressing problem of citizenship. We must reexamine the future of America and recognize that we need these extralegal citizens every bit as much as they desire to be a part of our nation. Our nation is not so great, nor can we be so arrogant as to suppose that we are done developing. America has always thrived and remained vibrant culturally, economically, and socially as a result of its steady flow of immigrants from all over the world.

 

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I spent a few hours last night writing a response for the first reading assignment (Love, Law and Civil Disobedience), but I was getting kind of frustrated and I was confusing myself. I happen to live with the host of this blog so I stopped into his room last night to talk to him about it a little bit. He told me not to stress out too much about it. We talked a little bit and I decided to scrap what I wrote. Monday afternoon. Here goes nothing…

Initially, I was most attracted to the parts of King’s speech where he discusses the differences between “just” and “unjust” laws. I was drawn to this because I was trying to figure out how King would feel about our current immigration legislation (in other words, would he think it was a just or unjust system). While I was writing my first draft, I became frustrated because I feel like King would say the laws regarding immigration in this country are unjust; however, I was having a hard time proving it. As far as I know, he never spoke publicly about immigration. We also don’t know much about how he feels about nation states or their responsibility toward people who are not their recognized citizens.

We do know that King thought about what was happening outside our borders. In this speech, he cites Nazi Germany and South Africa under apartheid as international examples of unjust systems. He doesn’t; however, talk about the role of the rest of the world in regard to these examples. He says he would aid a Jew in Nazi Germany and he would encourage civil disobedience against white supremacy laws “if [he] lived in South Africa”. Long story short, I don’t know how King felt about our nation’s obligation to people who were born outside of our borders. I think he would probably say that closed borders are unjust because “the legislative bodies that made these laws were not democratically elected” by the people that are affected by them.

I am interested in seeing how other people interpret this question, but ultimately I am much more interested in looking at the similarities and differences between the environment that King worked in and the environment we as immigration rights activists are working in presently. I want to know how the other members of this discussion group feel about King’s description of negative peace (the absence of tension). Does a sort of negative peace exist in the immigration debate? King describes a conversation he had with a white citizen in Alabama who claimed that there was harmony in race relations before the civil rights movement disrupted the relationship with boycotts and protests. Are there people who believe that a sort of racial harmony exists between extralegal citizens and legal citizens? I don’t know why I found this interesting. I just did.

I am also curious how people feel about the fact that the civil rights movement had the support of the federal government and Supreme Court whereas the immigration crisis has no such support. Do people feel like non-violent protest can achieve justice on the border in the face of a non-supportive federal government? While I believe opening our borders is a good thing, I think it will require a fundamental shift in the way we conceptualize our nation.

Finally, I want to know how people feel about the “Myth of Time” as discussed by King. He describes a segment of the population that believed time would solve the inequality in the South and that all you could do was be patient and pray. I wonder how widespread this attitude was amongst people in the South and if people felt like there was a momentum from Brown v. Board that would further equality without direct action and civil disobedience. In terms of the immigration crisis, I feel like the momentum is moving in the opposite direction. I think very few people believe that immigration will open up if they just wait and pray. Is the “Myth of Time” applicable to the immigration debate? What motivation/urgency issues will this movement face?

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Characteristics of Just and Unjust Laws

About halfway through this speech, Dr. King states that an unjust law, which we have a moral duty to disobey, “is a code that the majority inflicts on the minority that is not binding on itself.” MLK describes this as “difference made legal.” Let us take this idea and apply it to the situation of the paperless people in this country. Doing so will help us understand exactly what it is we should be working for.

Is the illegality of undocumented people a result of a code that the majority inflicts upon them that is not binding on itself? Yes. In essence the majority says, “You have to get permission to be in this country; I don’t. I can reside and work and exercise politically as a matter of natural right; you can’t.” I believe Dr. King would say that this legal distinction, based upon the “immutable characteristic, arbitrary from a moral point of view,” (Rawls words), constitutes a prime example of an unjust law. Just as under Jim Crow law, some were legally discriminated against by others because of the difference in the color of skin between the two groups, the whole idea of an “illegal immigrant” is one based on the idea of legal discrimination based on the difference in the place of birth between the two groups. So I think our goal should be to abolish the semi-slave status of “illegal immigrant” by recognizing that all people have equal claim to live where they want.

King goes on to say “An unjust law is a code which the majority inflicts upon the minority, which that minority had no part in enacting or creating, because that minority had no right to vote in many instances, to that the legislative bodies that made these laws were not democratically elected.” Because democracy is a system of government that derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, the Constitution doesn’t limit voting rights only to citizens. In fact, there is basically no Constitutional distinction between the rights of citizens and non-citizens. It could be argued (though I will leave it for another day) that because those excluded by immigration laws were denied the right to vote as to what the immigration laws would be, these laws are unjust and non-democratic. Given MLK’s standards for just and unjust laws, the goal we should have for this movement is to actualize the right of free migration.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

 

Nonviolence

Having identified immigration restrictions based on place of birth as unjust, Dr. King, I believe, would advocate our challenging this unjust system of segregation. But, “the means must be as pure as the end.” Dr. King talked about three competing approaches to social change. The first approach is resignation. Almost all people use this method to deal with injustice. They learn to adjust to injustice. The second approach, to “[rise] up against the oppressor with corroding hatred and physical violence,” is advocated by some today. As those who want to use nonviolence to bring about a free and equal society, we must not associate ourselves with either of these two methods. Just as Dr. King rejected the methods of Malcolm X, we must be very selective about how we will approach immigration reform. This is important because nonviolence is based in part on the idea that “the end is preexistent in the means.” Thus violence cannot (not just should not, but cannot) create a positive change. This is also true of “internal violence of spirit,” of hatred, and dehumanization. When we vilify those who oppose us or who debase and dehumanize undocumented people, we dehumanize them. We can never see them as our enemy, but as our future ally. We must realize that Jim Gilchrist, Lou Dobbs, and Tom Tancredo are children of God with infinite worth. “The image of God is never totally done,” and “even the worst segregationist can become an integrationist,” are powerful concepts. The civil rights movement sought not to advance the interests of one group over another, but knew that because their cause was just, it would benefit all people, even those who opposed them. This will require that we nurture and develop our capacity to love all humankind. Even more important than our unwillingness to tolerate an unjust system is our unwillingness to let that system cause us to hate. We must never call another human “enemy.”

 

Not Simply Disobedience; Civil Disobedience

It is interesting to read how strongly King supports the idea of civil disobedience. He does not advocate defying law. He even says “I submit that the individual who disobeys the law, whose conscience tells him it is unjust and who is willing to accept the penalty by staying in jail until that law is altered, is expressing at the moment the very highest respect for law.” Disobeying a specific law because of its immorality, but submitting to the general rule of law shows a very high level of respect for law. It is within that context of respect for the general rule of law, but recognition that some laws are unjust, that I encourage civil disobedience. We must break unjust laws openly and publicly, submit to the authorities, and trust that good people will not tolerate a system that allows good people to sit in jail because they refuse to “adjust to injustice.”

This means that we will be disruptive. Dr. King was constantly called an “outside agitator” for his unrelenting use of nonviolent civil disobedience. In this speech, he defends himself by saying that true peace was not disturbed, but only the “negative peace” of injustice. So it will be with us. We will be called outside agitators, we will be called disruptive. The analogy that came to mind for me, though, came from the “don’t rock the boat” idea. If a person is trapped under a small rowboat, s/he of necessity has to disrupt the apparent tranquility of the boat in order to stop from being drowned. But to suppose that because you are sitting in a stationary boat, peace must exist, is to neglect to see that your boat is potentially the instrument of someone’s death. As the drowning person pulls him/herself up over the edge of the boat, the rowboat dips toward the water on that side, but if the person sitting in the boat will be patient, the boat will regain its calm, but this time it will actually have peace, not just the appearance of it.

 

Question

My biggest question after reading this speech is this: how will the fact that restricted immigration is federal law make this civil disobedience campaign more difficult than the civil disobedience campaign for integration? Could they have succeeded in the 50s and 60s if they were still living under the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson?

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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–> The system of restricted migration, like segregation, uses tokenism to claim that justice is being realized, but like Dr. King, I recognize it as a mirage of justice, not justice itself.

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