Problem is, many movements fail, because they do not follow ALL of his tenets.
In Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin wrote the four premises to successful overthrow of egregious laws, circumstances, and prejudicial actions that did direct harm to an entire race of persons.
His tenets are only four, but each is built on the other, like links holding a suspension bridge intact. Take out one link, the bridge fails, swaying and swaying off its center, until collapse.
These are the four links of MLK’s successful bridge across so very troubled waters of his time:
1. Make a clear list of grievances
2. Negotiate on these premises
3. Do daily spiritual purification
4. Take non-violent action
I’d add one more that he did not write in Letter From Birmingham Jail, rather he lived it out through and through. Though he was falsely arrested more than two dozen times and unjustly imprisoned, he never made his imprisonment the issue. He never whined, complained or moaned about himself and the injustices done to him to the exclusion of continuing deep and hard, with clear sharp non-egotistical focus, about ‘the plight of the people’… not only ‘negro’ people, but also ‘white’ people, ALL people. He kept to all four premises daily and relentlessly.
1. Martin said that without a list of clear grievances, there is no message other than upset and tumult.
2. Martin said that without negotiation in good faith on the clear list of grievances, there was no purchase with those who put the laws/ actions in place to begin with.
3. Martin said that spiritual purification, holding to self-examination of one’s own angers, fears and sadnesses, and mediating these by reclaiming religious faith daily, made people of great and good heart, strong. Failure to do these made them merely a mob.
4. Martin said that non-violence did not include shouting nor cursing back, nor hitting nor screaming nor carrying placards insulting others. He taught, as did Gandhi, to be receptive, in non-violence, to whatever came.
This last powerful premise, #4, was MADE powerful only
–by the seriousness of his quest,
–that he accepted being designated leader,
– that he and his close in brothers and sisters decided the list of grievances to be turned to good.
–that he and his close in brothers and sisters negotiated with the powers that be, both small and large, in good faith re their list of grievances
– that he and his inner circle and his compatriots across the nation were to daily take spiritual inventory, setting down rage and screed, and instead proceeding as purely as they could in soul and spirit, mind and body…
all of these, not just one or the other form the bones and flesh of the 4th premise.
As a long time activist, I’ve seen far more movements fail than succeed.
The perils to long term activism are few but deep.
They have mainly to do with, regardless of people’s clear and dear passion and righteousness…
–disorganization, lack of focus, lack of agreement on the actual premises to negotiate about
–suddenly being seized by publicity about one or more individuals [this has ever been a strong way for opposition to weaken a group--offer the limelight to one or to a few, and have them capitulate into --becoming the issue/central focus themselves, rather than Only the issue being the issue],
–egotism amongst some, ‘my way or the highway’ by some who then exclude reasoned others of stalwart intentions
– unwillingness to proceed with relentless good will toward negotiation, often for a long time. Negotiation is never easy nor often quick. And never based on you give me everything and I give you nothing real, including dignity.
–lack of a daily spiritual practice of decency and tuning down negative emotions, that is shared by all, and if not by all, then by most, and especially by those most visible to the world they hope to better.
Would that it be so and continue to be so for all worthy movements across the world, that people do not fall into retaliation nor disorder nor vague demands, nor ‘tourist-like activism,’ nor such hatred they choke negotiations, nor personal ambition, nor grandstanding me me me, nor foolish performance for cameras, nor self-centered concerns… but the Way of Martin; Keeping the focus on the linkage of the bridge being built under such perilous circumstances, but built by the intrepid, the souls of the world who do not give up, who remain true and in solidarity with the souls of all beings.
These four premises and Martin’s refusal to make the injustices re his own personal life the center of attention, rather continuing on to remember and lift up ‘the people’… is what made him memorable.
He didnt only head a huge movement with the help of others. He didnt only turn a centuries’ old tide away from depersonalizing souls, into holding all souls as valuable… Martin left a blue print. A clear, clear blueprint… for those who have the eyes to see, the ears to hear… a written in stone blueprint for changing what many say is not changeable. It is. Martin said so. Did so. And it is so.
That we might do likewise on the matters that matter to the souls of all.
Hear our prayer.
The image is from Wikimedia, public domain… the bridge in the drawing was suspended by hand forged blacksmith-made chains. It was built in 1430, at Chushul, south of Lhasa in Tibet. This drawing is a redacted drawing originally made by an eyewitness at the site, who in the old books at turn of the previous century to ours, was said to be a spy from India. The ‘nature of human nature’ does go on, doesnt it.
In our time, the SanFrancisco Bay suspension bridge is made of cables… which are tiny links of metal woven together in many strands to make each cable wire. Ovoid and circular links, forged in fire, are one of the most ancient fasteners for holding back, pulling up or down, or suspending or hauling heavy weights. The technology to make the links may have changed, but the form used, now in many different ways, is still ancient.
So too, about thought systems, philosophic systems, often the most sturdy, are made of clearly built linkages that uphold an idea or ideal. Martin was onto this with his four premises, and his fifth unspoken premise about never letting the movement be about individuals, rather about All persons. Faithfully so.