“Now, we are poor people, individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to striking sanitation workers. Full Speech
Of the many challenges Dr. King made to the power structure, I believe this is what terrified them the most. It took down apartheid in South Africa twenty years after his death. Non-violence in the face of hate and brutality is probably the bravest thing I can imagine. Would you step in the ring, knowing you can’t hit back? Most won’t fight even when they can hit back. We still have a long way to go toward reaching Dr. King’s dream of being judged by the content of our character. It may be something beyond human ability, to put aside what our eyes tell us. But this man showed us that in the face of immense power eager to crush you down, where raising your fist will only give them reason to destroy you, that we still have the power to make their violent means impotent and redirect it against them like a judo throw.