FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Year of “Nonviolence or Non-Existence”

It was early 1968. Since the previous spring Martin Luther King, Jr. had been pursuing a course that for many was unthinkable. He had deliberately connected the dots between the movement for civil rights and the struggle to end the war in Vietnam, and had paid the price. He was roundly criticized by the Johnson administration and the media, as well as people in his own movement. From the right he was attacked for having the gall to question US foreign policy. From the left he was lambasted for losing focus and not keeping his eyes on the prize.

He even got it from a childhood friend who stopped by the house one afternoon to vent.

“Why are you speaking out against the Vietnam War?” he carped.

King put aside his customary oratory. “When I speak about nonviolence,” he patiently explained, “I mean nonviolent all the way.”

As David Garrow’s classic biography of King, Bearing the Cross, reports, he went on to say, “Never could I advocate nonviolence in this country and not advocate nonviolence for the whole world. That’s my philosophy. I don’t believe in death and killing on any side, no matter who’s heading it up—whether it be America or any other country. Nonviolence is my stand and I’ll die for that stand.”

A few months later King was dead, but not before making one last, indelible declaration of the existential importance of nonviolence.

Standing before the jammed crowd at the Mason Temple in Memphis the night before his death, King linked his life wisdom with a pithy and resounding appraisal of our global predicament: “The choice before us is no longer violence or nonviolence,” he said. “It’s nonviolence or non-existence.”

This April marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination—and of King’s clear warning. This is a moment not simply for remembering a great leader cut down in his prime but also for seriously contemplating the acute clarity of his assessment and what it means for us today.

Sadly, in the same way that warnings of climate change have mostly been dismissed for decades, Dr. King’s stark framing of the pivotal choice before us—nonviolence or nonexistence—was steadfastly ignored over the past half-century as the United States lurched from another seven years of the Vietnam War to decades of war in Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places, even as the violence of racial injustice, economic inequality, environmental destruction, nuclear proliferation, gun deaths, armed drones, and many other forms of violence spiraled out of control. Indeed, over these decades we have consistently opted for violence even as we have shunned the word “nonviolence,” as if it were the most dangerous word in the English language.

Now, 50 years on, King’s words take on more weight with each passing hour.

Fifty years after the watershed year of 1968, we are at another watershed, and Dr. King has put the fundamental choice before us. This is the Year of “Nonviolence or Nonexistence.”

Like his childhood friend, all of us must learn his wisdom of active nonviolence and rise to the occasion as Dr. King did and choose active nonviolence if we are to not to go over the brink.

Kingian nonviolence calls for active, universal love toward all human beings, all creatures, and all creation, that refuses to kill or be silent in the face of killing. It is a way of life, a spiritual path, and a political methodology toward peaceful conflict resolution and global justice.

It means striving to be nonviolent to ourselves and to those around us, trying to be nonviolent toward all the creatures and the environment, and doing our part to build up the global grassroots movements of active nonviolence for a new culture of justice, equality, and peace.

“A culture of nonviolence is not an impossible dream,” Pope Francis said recently, following up on his 2017 World Day of Peace message, “Nonviolence—A New Style of Politics,” the first statement on nonviolence in the history of the Catholic Church.

But our culture of violence begs to differ. “No, Pope Francis,” it says, “a culture of nonviolence is an impossible dream. No, Dr. King, there is no choice; non-existence is inevitable.” Deep down, that’s what we think, isn’t it? That’s what the culture of violence, the voice of despair, tells us.

If we give in to such despair, then our fate is sealed. But this need not be how things turn out.

The ironic good news is that never before have so many nonviolent movements existed in this country and around the globe. The world is on the march for the nonviolent option, and we, too, can opt for active, creative and powerful nonviolence—and not for the trajectory of nonexistence—by joining them in this critical year. It’s our most important choice ever.

In 2018, may we, like Martin Luther King, Jr., “mean nonviolent all the way.”

More articles by:

John Dear is an American Catholic priest nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been arrested more than 75 times in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war, injustice, and nuclear weapons.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail