Lessons in resistance from MLK, the ‘conservative militant’

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. (AP Photo)

Christopher Beem | Managing Director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State


Just days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, activists from Greenpeace climbed up a large construction crane near the White House and unfurled a large banner with the single word: Resist. The Conversation

On Feb. 11, thousands of protesters used their bodies to spell the word “resist” on a San Francisco beach. The next day, at the Grammys, rapper Q-Tip yelled “resist” no less than four times from the stage.

And on Feb. 26, at a rally outside Washington, Maryland Congressman John Delaney said to the audience,

“What do we have to do? We have to resist. This is a defining moment. It’s stirring our hearts and stirring our emotions and we’re committed to resisting with you.”

Christopher Beem

All of these examples speak to a widespread and resolute discontent with the election of President Trump. They express a rejection of his agenda and of what they see as his degradation of our democracy. “Resist” reflects their desire, insofar as they can, to stop this from happening.

But what exactly does it mean to resist? And most importantly, how can Americans make sure that their resistance is most likely to effect change?

I have studied the words and actions of Martin Luther King for decades. King led one of the most successful, nonviolent resistance movements in American history. I believe his example is especially germane to these questions.

What can today’s resisters learn from King and the civil rights movement?

MLK: A ‘conservative militant’

In the words of historian August Meier, who wrote a seminal book, “Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915,” published in 1963, King succeeded because he was “a conservative militant.”

The word, “conservative” has a specific meaning here. King was a democratic socialist, he opposed the Vietnam War and he called for massive investment in the inner cities. He was not conservative in any political sense. But what Meier showed was that King nevertheless manifested a conservative core – one that resonated with millions of Americans and thereby helped achieve the movement’s remarkable success.

In Meier’s words,

“American history shows that for any reform movement to succeed, it must attain respectability. It must attract moderates, even conservatives to its rank.”

King understood this. And to that end, he was indeed conservative – both in the arguments he made and the manner in which he presented them.

King argued that racism in America meant the United States was not living up to its own ideals. At the very core of the Declaration of Independence and thus at the center of American life was the belief that “all men are created equal.” But in America in the 1960s, and especially in the South, African-Americans lived out their lives as second-class citizens. In King’s words, American culture was “the very antithesis” of what it claimed to believe.

King did not want to challenge, let alone replace, ideals of freedom and equality. He wanted America to better embody them. He argued that the civil rights movement was just the latest in a long American tradition that was both grounded in those ideals and sought to make them more authentic.

King compared the civil rights movement with the abolitionist movement, the populist movement of farmers and laborers in the late 19th century, and even to the American Revolution itself. The American ideal “all men are created equal” constituted what King called a “promissory note.” In each case, ordinary citizens demanded that that promise be honored. And through their actions, the nation was made more free and more just.

By framing the cause of civil rights in words and ideas that most Americans strongly identified with, King was able to appeal to their innate patriotism. What’s more, those who stood against his cause were, by implication, the ones who could be seen as un-American.

King’s strategy

King’s resistance was also strictly nonviolent. Following the model of civil resistance developed by M.K. Gandhi, leader of Indian independence, King argued for nonviolence within the terms of his own Christian faith.

King said that by responding to injustice with civility and to violence with nonviolence, the resister was fulfilling “the Christian doctrine of love.” For King, that love was best reflected in the Greek word “agape,” an “understanding, redeeming good will for all men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.” This was the love that Christ epitomized, and which his followers were called to emulate.

But King also insisted that nonviolent resistance spoke to a respect for the law that can only be called conservative. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he was imprisoned in 1963, King insisted that while unjust laws must be broken, they must be broken “lovingly,” such that the act demonstrates a respect, even a reverence, for the law.

King argued that this nonviolent strategy was not simply the most Christian response. It was also “the most potent instrument the Negro community can use to gain total emancipation in America.” He said that violent protests gave the white man “an excuse to look away,” to ignore those who want to claim the mantel of equality.“

Conducting the struggle “on the high plane of dignity and discipline,” dressing well, using respectful language and accepting violence without responding in kind: All this gave protesters a moral standing that attracted moderates to the cause. It also sought to change the hearts and minds of the bigots, but even if that effort failed, the bigots were nevertheless defeated.

The Jim Crow system of racial segregation rested on the idea that African-Americans were inferior to whites. By rigidly adhering to the high road, the actions of protesters proved that that entire system was based on a falsehood.

Indeed, if anything, actions on both sides demonstrated the opposite.

Acting politically

Many protesters in the 1960s sought to bring down an established order that they saw as irredeemably racist and corrupt. But to those who said:

“Burn, baby, burn,”

King said,

“Organize, baby, organize.”

The fundamental purpose of resistance was to effect political change and that meant operating within existing political institutions.

It also often required compromise. For example, at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, a crisis developed when the newly created and integrated “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” demanded they be recognized and seated instead of the all-white “official” Mississippi delegation. They argued they were the truly democratic representatives of the state as they were the product of procedures fair and open to all.

Party leaders worked out a compromise that allowed the Mississippi delegation to remain. King accepted this compromise, but many advocates condemned it as an illegitimate accommodation to racism.

King did not disagree, but he argued that this face-saving gesture would help to ensure that the South would not abandon then-candidate Lyndon Johnson. One year later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which ensured voting rights for all African-Americans, and brought federal control over elections in the South.

Today’s resistance is conservative

The notion of conservative militancy likely does not, however, resonate with today’s resisters. For many of them, this moment is an opportunity to grow and strengthen the left either within or outside the Democratic Party; for some, it is an opportunity to move beyond the two-party system altogether.

But within the civil rights movement, similar designs were often met with the operating principle: Keep your “eyes on the prize.” What it meant was that individuals should not allow themselves to be distracted. Rather, they should continually orient themselves and their actions such that they advance the movement toward the ultimate goal.

Right now, many Americans contend that longstanding democratic procedures, norms and ideals are under attack. Because they seek to defend those core American ideals, those who resist have become, by default, conservatives and patriots.

Contemporary resisters would therefore do well to remember King’s example.

By accepting their own role as “militant conservatives” and accommodating their actions accordingly, they are more likely to resist effectively, and thereby achieve the ends they seek.

Christopher Beem is managing director of the McCourtney Institute of Democracy at Penn State. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump’s immigration executive orders: The demise of due process and discretion

A screenshot of the article published on The Conversation.

By Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia | Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and Founding Director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic


The U.S. immigration code, passed by Congress in 1952, rivals the tax code in its level of complexity. The Conversation

In January, President Donald Trump signed three executive orders on immigration that have made matters more complicated for immigrants and the lawyers and advocates who fight on their behalf.

As an immigration lawyer and teacher, I have spent countless hours helping those in need and educating my community, which includes residents, educators, professors, international students and scholars, along with local government about the contents of the orders, and the guidelines released by the Department of Homeland Security in February and how they will be implemented.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia

Specifically, the two orders on deportations and enforcement, both signed on Jan. 25, reveal that the government is making three major changes.

First, the orders are making virtually every undocumented person a priority for deportation.

Second, they seek to maximize existing programs that allow deportation of individuals without basic due process. This includes the right to be heard by a judge, present evidence or challenge a charge of deportation.

And third, pursuant to its Feb. 20 memorandum, DHS has rescinded most documents that offered guidance on prosecutorial discretion.

Prosecutorial discretion in immigration law refers to the choice made by a government official or agency to enforce or not enforce the immigration law against a person. It has been the central focus of my research, and is a critical component in our immigration system. Officials must choose whom to prioritize for removal because they have limited resources. The government has also recognized other compelling reasons why a person might deserve to not be deported. For example, a person without papers who has lived in the United States for several years and has family ties, steady employment or community leadership may temporarily be protected from removal.

Do Trump’s executive orders signal an end to this practice?

Everyone is a priority

DHS has rescinded the 2014 Johnson Priorities Memo, which provided a framework for determining who is a priority for immigration enforcement and articulated the factors that should be considered when making decisions about whether to deport someone.

For example, the memo instructed DHS to consider amount of time spent living in the United States and “compelling humanitarian factors such as poor health, age, pregnancy, a young child, or a seriously ill relative.”

Now, the government is taking a hard-line approach to immigration enforcement, without explicit consideration for a person’s circumstances. The orders list specific parts of the 1952 immigration statute that target those eligible for deportation for reasons related to crimes or misrepresentation. But enforcement officials will also now target deportable immigrants who:

  • have been convicted of any criminal offense;
  • have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;
  • have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
  • have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;
  • have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
  • are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
  • in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

DHS guidance does not stop with this priority list. It goes on to suggest that any person without documents might be a priority. It repeatedly states: “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

Arguably, an undocumented parent living in the United States for several years and taking care of children who have formal or permanent immigration status, or United States citizenship, could be targeted as a person “in violation of the immigration laws,” whereas before this same person would have more clearly been eligible for prosecutorial discretion and not been labeled as a priority. Similarly, a student who overstays her visa and then jaywalks may be treated as an enforcement priority because jaywalking constitutes a chargeable offense.

The cumulative effect is fear that everyone is a priority.

Despite major changes to enforcement, the guidance from DHS suggests that individual prosecutorial discretion may be exercised on a case-by-case basis, and preserves three policies relating to enforcement.

One pertains to “sensitive locations” and instructs DHS to avoid enforcement in places like schools, places of worship and hospitals.

The second is a guideline on granting parole to certain arriving asylum seekers after a “credible fear” interview has been conducted. When an asylum seeker is “paroled,” she is released from detention and able to pursue her asylum claim outside of custody.

The final memo that is still intact is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA enables qualifying noncitizens who entered the United States at a young age, often referred to as “Dreamers,” to apply for protection from deportation and work authorization.

While I see the preservation of these guidelines as positive, the overriding message of the executive orders and implementation memos is one of speedy enforcement without discretion or due process.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia is the Samuel Weiss Faculty Scholar and founding director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Pennsylvania State University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency

This heart-shaped #cloud was captured by NOAA’s GOES-13 #satellite on June 1, 2011. (Image provided/NOAA)


Professor of meteorology and atmospheric science David Titley was recently quoted in The Washington Post about proposed Trump administration budget cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Here’s an excerpt:

David Titley

“David Titley, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who served as NOAA’s chief operating officer in the Obama administration, said that ‘oddly’ the White House budget office, despite the president’s commitment to building infrastructure, would cut NOAA’s budget for ships and satellites. ‘These cuts will impact good private-sector jobs in the U.S.,’ Titley said. ‘The loss of capability will make America weaker both in space and on the sea — a strange place to be for an administration that campaigned to “make America great again.”’ ”

Read the full article on WashingtonPost.com. Title was also quoted in a similar article on the Standard-Examiner.

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