Frederick Douglas famously said “If there is no struggle, there is no progress – power concedes nothing without demand.” Dr. Martin Luther King urged people to make their demands with their vote as well as demands in the street. There is nothing wrong with making a demand that certain rights are guaranteed in exchange for allowing some to govern. As Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to James Madison, “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth, which no just government can deny.” It’s a demand that those who govern must abide by a list of rights written by those who are governed.
It’s easy for us to forget this simple principle: act don’t beg. Children and youth can teach us this lesson. When people think of the movement for civil rights, they think of adults, or perhaps children who are victims. But in Birmingham during the civil rights movement, for two days children and youth cut school and en masse marched into the back of paddy wagons, and then, the following day marched head long into water canyons and German Shepherd police dogs.
It was a turning point in the movement, and a picture of one of the dogs attacking one of the children appeared on the front pages of every newspaper in America. So asking you to take a few minutes to sign a pledge isn’t much. Still, it is a deliberate act.
Acting forcefully doesn’t mean acting violently. Martin Luther King taught us this too, as did Gandhi, who King went to India to study. One time while King was speaking, a 200-pound white man attacked him on the stage. He began to pound King with his fists. As people moved in on the man King protected his attacker, Roy James, a 24-year-old member of the Nazi party. He presented him as if he was a guest on stage. King held him close and said that their case was just- the man began to weep in King’s embrace.
So unite. Act forcefully and nonviolently, and demand your rights. Use your personal power to write the rules for those who govern.
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