I heard Senator Cory Booker paraphrase this and looked up the original:
It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. — Martin Luther King
All violence has an underlying cause. Ideally, we would recognize and try to correct these underlying causes, but sometimes violence causes us to react solely to the violence and may even make us more resistant to addressing its roots (see my reaction to the violence in France). This is not to say that we should justify or reward violence but rather that we must not let ourselves lose sight of our ultimate goal: a free and just and equal society. The conditions Dr. King mentions are not intolerable because they spawn violence; they are intolerable because they promote oppression and despair.
The other day someone asked the question, If you had been an adult during the Civil Rights movement, would you have marched? Shortly after I returned home from my mission, my late brother and I were watching a news program with my mother. The program discussed the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was being celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time. My brother said, “If I had been alive then, I would have marched with them.” I said I would have, as well. My mother was horrified, her view being that Dr. King was a Communist rabble-rouser. “Why would you do something like that?” she asked. My brother said, “They were in the right. Their rights were being denied, and someone needed to stand up for them.” I agreed. My mother said something like, “Well, things were already changing on their own accord, so there wasn’t any need to cause all the trouble.” My brother smiled and said, “It’s because they caused trouble that things started changed.”
But I’ve thought about it. Would I have marched, really? I hope I’ve made it clear that I support equal treatment under the law for all people, and I also believe we must do everything possible to eradicate discrimination in all its forms. But would I have marched? I realized that marching requires commitment. You actually have to break out of your normal routine to do something like that. I live about 45 minutes from the White House, where there is always a demonstration of some kind going on. Heck, the White House Peace Vigil, just north of the White House fence in Lafayette Square, has been going on round the clock since 1981. That’s commitment! And yet I can’t be bothered to get in my car or take the Metro into town to speak up about something I believe in. I vote, but I haven’t been particularly politically active in years, not since I participated in party caucuses, a Senate campaign, and a state party convention several years ago. I guess I should feel good that I did that, but since then it’s been a lot of nothing for me. About the only thing I’ve had any passion about in the last few years is Mormonism and the pain of leaving it. I have tried to help people navigate that difficult transition, and I hope I have done some good. But I just don’t care about it much anymore. I wouldn’t cross the street to protest anything related to Mormonism. Heck, I can’t even bother enough to say much about the ridiculous “Je suis John Dehlin” meme. So, maybe it’s time to get involved with something bigger than a mildly snarky blog. I know, that doesn’t fit my negative elan, but so be it.
As I said earlier, I’ll keep you posted.