Felicia Muftic: Occupy movement must define concrete goals
October 21, 2011
The dedication of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington took place as another movement, Occupy Wall Street, is in infancy. There are many lessons the new movement could learn from King’s leadership.
The civil rights movement was also fueled by anger with unfairness and injustice , but its success was the result of using the right technique to bring others outside the group along with them. Occupy Wall Street has taken one of those lessons to heart and it will succeed in moving others to join them if they stay the course. The lesson is that peaceful, civil disobedience ultimately will be more successful than violent acts of defiance. There are other lessons yet to be learned.
Dr. King’s technique was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s independence from the British Empire. Using non-violent protests and reacting peacefully when authorities used physical violence against them gained them sympathy, respect, and support.
The alternative is violence, and our family has experienced some of it. My husband was born in the old Yugoslavia in 1933. He saw firsthand what happened when one group felt they had been poorly treated by the power structure in the midst of a world depression. Rage turned into violence; parliament members were assassinated, and, when World War II came to the Balkans, so did civil war. A dictatorship emerged, imposing peace, but as soon as strongman Tito died, the conflict resumed, climaxing in the bloody ethnic cleansing war of the Balkans in the 1990s.
It is that life experience that had him fearful that the U.S. could experience the same expression of anger in violent riots and demonstrations.
I grew up in an eastern Oklahoma town that had become the refuge for many black Americans after race riots and KKK action in Tulsa in the ’20’s and ’30s. Oklahoma was the icon of poverty in that pre-World War II period, choked with dust storms, with masses of Okies immigrating to California. The black Americans in that part of the world had learned that violence got them nothing but more poverty and even more institutionalized separation that was not equal. It was MLK that showed them another way out of that wilderness, and how to use the democratic system and court decisions to end segregation. The snarling police dogs, the murder of civil rights leaders, the peaceful hymn singing marches, brought sufficient sympathetic support from diverse quarters for the causes so eloquently expressed by King that government-supported segregation ended. The U.S. worked through its civil disagreements of decades past with a much different outcome than Yugoslavia.
Those same techniques developed by Gandhi and MLK helped the participants in the Arab Spring overthrow oppressive dictators. The outcome of the revolution in Egypt is jeopardized by violent religious strife. Tahrir square occupiers have forgotten that non-violence was their effective tool and that violence could nip their establishment of democracy in the bud as the military imposes the very same practices to stop the violence that were the reasons for the revolution. Non-violence is not a one-time matter; it must be practiced until the goal is reached.
Occupy Wall Street has a chance to translate sympathy into votes and governmental action, democracy’s way of facilitating change. Non violence has been their mantra and response to action by police. They so far have learned the lessons of the civil rights movement well. They need, though, to heed another lesson from MLK: to identify their goals and objectives.
The Occupy movement so far is just an expression of anger. Participants have not agreed on what they want either the private sector or government to do. Dr. King moved the civil rights activists past anger to specific objectives concerning voter rights and eliminating segregation. They also need to channel their rage into reformist goals if they want to rally others to take action beyond merely expressing sympathy.
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