Systems and Power

I just finished reading Garrow's massive biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bearing the Cross. Garrow is a great writer to be able to link together so many dates, events, and people in such a gripping and moving story. One of King's leaders, Jim Bevel, summarized what he felt were the four major forces which kept the ghetto in place:
  1. lack of economic power;
  2. political disenfranchisement;
  3. lack of knowledge and information; and
  4. lack of self-respect and self-dignity among the people of the ghetto.
He concluded that the project had
to create enough self-dignity and self-respect in the people of the ghetto so that they will not tolerate the inhumane system under which they are now forced to live, and will replace it with a community of love.
Bevel recommended to the leadership that they focus first on number one. His reason for advising this was because he believed that:
You fight a machine by making people grow so that they don't fit into the machine anymore.
It struck me how King's movement began with energy, zeal, vision and hope, but gradually ground to a slow and depressing struggle with small victories. The story again impressed me with how humanity has the uncanny ability to resist change by adopting manifold methods of entrenchment... anything from physical violence to empty promises to just plain refusal. King came to the conclusion late in his career that he was no longer interested in seeking integration into the present value structure. He realized that the structure itself was the problem and needed to be radically changed. The evil was systemic and not just personal. He even recommended some kind of modified socialism. Some believe this, and not the civil rights movement, is what got him killed. We often face institutional power gone bad or systemic evil, as well as those who manage it. I found the four forces insightful. These four forces can be seen as stages for us to go through: self-respect to knowledge to shared power to equality. It is important and necessary for people everywhere to grow in their self-respect and dignity so that they cannot be controlled by these powers. New wine bursts old wineskins. Changed people conquer the principalities and powers that would enslave us. Even the ones we are comfortable with.
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