One day after the national Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, it is worthwhile to re-read his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” There had been coordinated protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. King had already devised his winning strategy against segregation: nonviolence in a way to force the rest of America, which was not paying attention in large part to southern segregation, to see the injustice.
King’s strategy was brilliant, but with qualifications. It would only work in a free and largely non-racist society. Nonviolent protest had been successful with Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi in India, where again, the British governors had, for the most part, responded with tolerance and caution. King wagered that when average, mostly non-racist, whites saw the beatings, the use of fire hoses, and dogs, they would become incensed and demand change. They did. However, he also had a powerful tool on his side, the American news media, which was ideologically aligned with the civil rights movement. Thus, they dutifully (and correctly) showed the abuses by police, while 50 years later in Portland with genuine violent riots, they were again aligned with the protestors—only this time they made lawless mobs into sympathetic figures or covered them not at all.
By working within a largely non-racist, tolerant, Western (and Christian) culture, King’s appeals fell on eager ears. People were ready to right the wrongs of the past. However, it is imperative to note that such marches would never have even taken place in Communist China, the USSR, or Hitler’s Germany. People such as King and Gandhi would have been exterminated long before their careers even started. Can anyone name one mass protest march in Nazi Germany?