Movements Monday: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As part of Movements.org’s ongoing work to amplify the voices of digital activists fighting for basic human rights in closed societies, each Monday we’ll highlight critical events from the past week, trending cyber activism tactics, or growing movements that you should know about. Occasionally, we’ll also provide an opportunity for you to directly engage with the activists on the front lines of the struggle for their rights. We hope you share and discuss these updates widely and we look forward to hearing your feedback!
"One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in a letter from Birmingham Jail; April 16, 1963
“Our collective participation on the Jan25 is the beginning of the end-- the end of silence, acceptance, and submission to all that is happening in our country, and the beginning of a new page of coming forward and demanding our rights. Jan25 is not a revolution in the sense of a coup, but rather a revolution against our government to let them know that we have taken interest in one another's problems and that we shall reclaim all our rights and will not be silent anymore.”
Wael Ghonim, Revolution 2.0: A Memoir and a Call to Action
Montgomery to Tahrir
Two years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of courageous Egyptians marched to Tahrir square and banded together to demand an end to the brutal tyranny of Hosni Mubarak and his insidious regime. Even as riot police were beating them with truncheons and pelting them with teargas, the protestors banded together to stand their ground in non-violent rebellion against decades of state repression. For me, one of the most stirring scenes during the incredible first days of the #Jan25 uprising was a video of Muslim demonstrators facing down the barrage of a police water cannon while they prayed in the street:
Several days later in Tahrir Square the scene would repeat itself, this time with Christian Egyptians standing guard in a human chain around the worshippers. While we were all watching this unfold live, in my head I kept coming back to the grainy black-and-white images from the 1960’s of police in the United States vainly using the same savage tactics to beat back the waves of African-American civil rights protestors as they struggled for their own rights:
It was clear the Egyptian police had learned a great deal from their predecessors. But so had the freedom fighters. The ingenious strategies employed by Egyptian protestors during the Jan25 uprising (and used by countless rights movements around the world) owed much to the principles of non-violent struggle that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his disciples espoused as they fought an unjust system of racial tyranny in America 60 years ago. And this was no accident. The crafty leaders of the Egyptian uprising had studied Dr. King (as well as other non-violent movements) and the tactics he used. At the foundation of their struggle was the firm belief that only through non-violent civil disobedience could they bring down such an unjust system.
During the long, cold nights in Tahrir Square between rallies, organizers struggled to keep up morale and maintain the occupation of the symbolic epicenter of the uprising. Some people sang songs, some cleaned the streets, and one leading voice, Dalia Ziada, Director of the American-Islamic Congress, passed out a kind of tactical field guide from Dr. King—a comic book produced in 1958 that teaches the principles of Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience through the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dalia and her colleagues translated The Montgomery Story into Arabic and actually began printing the manual in Egypt in 2008, but during the uprising the story that the comics told became real. The History News Network interviewed Dalia in 2009:
The main message I hope that Arabic readers will take from the MLK comic book is that change is not impossible. It is time to stop using our muscles blindly. Let's try using our intellect in innovative, creative ways to pressure decision makers and end dictatorship, tyranny and the suppression practiced against us.
On the day when the U.S. celebrates a national holiday reserved for Dr. King, let’s take a moment to honor the legacy of a man who inspired his generation and countless others to non-violent revolution against the tyranny of an unjust status-quo. Let’s take a moment to honor Dr. King’s courage, vision, patience, and determination, and think about how we can mimic these virtues in our own movements: