Dr. King’s Legacy of Peaceful Direct Action is a Model for Us Today

Daleo Freeman

January 13, 2023

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“Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Address Delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple, April 3, 1968.

Thanks to a many-year struggle that culminated in the successful 1984-1987 union contract, APWU members have the right to observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on January 16th. As we enjoy this off day in the manner of our choosing, I would suggest that you participate in an event in your community or take a few minutes to refresh your memory about the significance of the civil rights movement and its interconnected relationship with the labor movement.

One of the lessons learned from Martin Luther King Jr’s (MLK) leadership, and the tactics used in the civil rights movement, is that nonviolent direct-action works. It unites and educates us, while publicly exposing the hypocrisy and injustice of the oppressor. Events such as the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” beating of peaceful civil rights protestors, who were marching from Selma to Montgomery, AL, shone a light on police brutality, voter suppression, and segregation in Jim Crowe-era Alabama. It galvanized support for civil rights across the country.

Whether a direct action is large, like the Selma to Montgomery march, or a small workplace march on the boss, MLK identified six steps for nonviolent direct action (PDF below) which are also used in the labor movement. The steps are: information gathering, educate others, personal commitment, negotiations, direct action, and reconciliation. For more information about how you can put these steps into action, go to: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu.

On MLK Day, and every other day I, encourage you to continue to do the important work of activism on behalf of your union siblings and yourselves. I urge you to set aside some time to engage in causes that are seemingly outside of your work life such as civil rights, veterans’ rights, injured employee rights, voting rights and so on. Injustices that transpire in the world affect us on the job. So, we will be calling on you to spare a little of your time to help. We must continue our fight from all angles as the struggle continues.

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