Rev. Martin Luther King press conference / World Telegram & Sun photo by Dick DeMarsico. Created / Published July 30, 1964. (Library of Congress)
April 4, 2022, marks 54 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on his balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. King had gone there for the second time in a month to march alongside the city’s striking sanitation workers. They demanded dignity and better wages, and King recognized that a strong union was essential to improving the quality of their lives.
In his final speech on April 3 (“I have been to the mountaintop”), King imagined a panoramic view of history and said of all the times to live, he would choose the current moment. Despite the challenges, the hate, the sickness of the mid-twentieth century, it was a moment, King said, when mankind could no longer ignore the problems that plagued society. The means to eradicate poverty were available. The tools to end war and hatred existed in the nonviolent resistance movements. “It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world,” King told the crowd in Memphis. “It’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”
The American Union was born to answer the challenge King threw down in his Beyond Vietnam speech out one year before his death; “to declare eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” We are still confronted by these interconnected evils, and once again, standing at a similar crossroads, inaction is not an option. Unity is the way forward, supporting a transformative legislative package, with success resting on a clear set of principles.
Like King’s final campaign in Memphis, the union recognizes that “all labor has dignity.” The legislation takes up King’s calls for a “guaranteed annual income” with a program of universal basic income, so every American man, woman, and child has an economic floor to stand on. Racial injustice is addressed with wide-ranging provisions to reverse the trends of mass incarceration. King’s work to end American militarism, which did not stop in Vietnam but continued to grow, is built upon with military downsizing and foreign policy adjustments.
King’s strategy of nonviolence affected revolutionary change, but his work was never finished. More than ever, we have the opportunity to continue his mission by working together under the six principles of nonviolence he outlined a half-century ago.
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people
Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart or those who are afraid of conflict. MLK exemplified the courage necessary to transform social and political norms. The American Union is boldly challenging the status quo in politics by rejecting the “lesser of two evils” paradigm. This opens the possibilty of the greater evil succeeding, just as striking santiation workers risked the greater evil of losing their jobs completely instead of the lesser evil of degrading working conditions. A new path forward requires sacrifice, dedication, and perseverance in pursuing our goals. We are not waiting for political leaders to change; we are demanding they change and we have drafted legislation detailing how.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding
Part of the civil rights movement’s success was its ability to build bridges among groups toward what Dr. King called “a beloved community.” As a union of voters, we are constantly building bridges among people with different political priorities. Whether they’re Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Greens, Populists or Forwardists, they can find many policies they support in our legislative package. We understand that our strength is in unity and that we can compromise on particulars without compromising our principles. Everyone is welcome in the American Union as we explore every possible alliance to make the country better in 2022.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people
King recognized that the enemy was not any particular individual committing evil acts, rather it was injustice. So much energy is wasted in modern politics ginning up hate for the other side, rather than solving problems that affect the entire country. The American Union’s mission is to address the three evils of society by seeing our legislation reach the president’s desk, not to defeat one political party or another. As such, the union has offered every candidate and every incumbent running in 2022 an opportunity to succeed by taking up our demands. We’re ignoring party lines that distract us from fighting injustice.
4. Unearned suffering for a just cause is redemptive
Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi, two great proponents of nonviolent action, equally understood that pain and suffering accompany the cause of freedom. King paraphrased Gandhi in his letter from Birmingham jail, writing, “To our most bitter opponents we say, ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force.’” Members of the American Union embrace this principle by engaging in a voluntary fast for peace on the 15th of each month. The fast of moral pressure serves as a demonstration of unity and a willingness to sacrifice for the cause of justice and peace.
5. Nonviolence chooses love over hate
In 1957, Dr. King explained the importance of love as the most effective weapon in his fight against injustice. “Love is creative and redemptive,” he said. “Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight fire with fire’ method … is bitterness and chaos. The aftermath of the love method is reconciliation.” The American Union is creating a new political paradigm based on love and inclusion. By rejecting divisive politics and offering candidates of both parties an oppertunity to succeed, we can unite a divided American around specific legislative solutions that recognize the humanity in all of us.
6. Nonviolence believes the universe is on the side of justice
MLK famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” America has exemplified that in its history, undergoing bursts of self-improvement when it aligned itself with the highest ideals of its founding principles. The American Union believes that people will, far more often than not, do the right thing when given the chance. By helping the poor, forgiving the sinners, and loving our enemies, we’ll create prospects for all people to bend the world toward justice.
As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the country has the opportunity to “recapture the revolutionary spirit” encapsulated in its constitutional duties of establishing justice, liberty, and peace. We the people just need a better way to organize for political power to make it happen. Like Martin Luther King and the sanitation workers knew in 1968, a union is the best way to get there. Together, we can win us a better social contract in 2022.