On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. retired to his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. King had spent the better part of the day meeting with sanitation workers who were protesting for their rights. The previous day, King had electrified the protesting workers with a speech which has come to be called “I have been to the mountaintop;” a speech that rallied the workers to continue demanding, in a peaceful way. He noted:
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be.
On the night of April 4th, however, King was assassinated while on the balcony of his motel room. He has been dead for 50 years now; more than the 39 years he lived on this earth. The comfort that we find in King’s absence is that he bequeathed onto the world the ideals of nonviolence as a way of resolving conflicting or fighting injustice.
King was a minister and an intellectual who believed in nonviolence as a personal philosophy and against doing harm to other human beings. It is this kind of nonviolent strategy that he used to effect social change.
What is Nonviolence
Nonviolence is more than the absence of violence in pursuit of satisfying one’s interests. Nonviolence, at its core rejects any form of retaliation and seeks inclusive solutions. This is what King stood for, and he led by example.
It is ironic that whereas King stood against violence, his life was taken in a violent manner by the barrel of a gun. 50 years later, America is faced with a conflict premised on gun rights and the second amendment on the first hand, and a quest to limit what guns should be in the market, on the other hand. It is imperative to note that the debate aimed at resolving this conflict has been characterized by acrimony and can also be described as less than inclusive discourse. Each side seems entrenched in intractable positions. What would King have advocated had he lived to see this day?
King’s non-violence strategy was complimented by what I will call a love for the antagonist. Rarely would he shame the other side or attempt to moralize those with whom his interests were at a divergence. This simply entails a strong desire on his part to maintain a solid relationship with the other side.
King is a reminder of the frontiers of conflict resolution and peacebuilding: that such efforts take time and the road can be arduous. The key is to remain consistent and faithful to the course.