January 15, 2018

The Action Spirit of King


In April 1963 Martin Luther King and his fellow Birmingham direct actionists sat in jail. They had expected such a response from the segregationist power structure. It was also predictable that they’d be hearing criticism and condemnation from most of the people who in theory should have been on their side. King anticipated this, and responded immediately with an eloquent refutation and exposure of this collaborator position. This was the Letter From Birmingham Jail.
In the letter King refutes those who object to demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, civil disobedience in general, those who reject anything but the most lukewarm, “civil” criticism which is guaranteed to remain impotent. He opens up with their standard objection to any real resistance, that it’s “unwise and untimely”. Today this could be the signature of all who are lukewarm.
Protest is always timely and wise in the broadest sense. As for the specific timing, we who want humanity and the Earth to have a future must recognize when the time has come, and when today is the day. Our task today isn’t the same as that of the civil rights movement. They sought a specific set of reforms. They were up against an obsolete set of attitudes and practices which for the most part were an embarrassment to corporate power, and the reforms the movement sought wouldn’t interfere with corporate imperatives. Indeed, the end of segregation was put to good political use by corporate power. It has helped render racially astro-turfed divide-and-conquer even more insidious and harder to counteract. It also generated the terrain for anti-political “identity politics”. This isn’t the fault of the civil rights movement, but rather these are crimes of the corporations and the rich and the fault of malingering racists and corporate liberals themselves. But we should be aware of this history of corporate domination.
Today we need to abolish poison-based agriculture and transform food production and distribution on the rational, scientific basis of agroecology and the social basis of food sovereignty. We must build this alternative to the corporate agriculture and food system, counter to it where possible, in resistance to it where necessary. This is a permanent necessity whose goal is the eventual complete replacement of this world of waste, bottlenecks, and destruction by a world of socioecological health, well-being, and freedom.
We’ll constantly be propagating the need for total abolition. Along the way we’ll encounter many opportunities for the kind of direct action and civil disobedience campaigns King led. We’ll likely have to engage in civil disobedience on behalf of the Community Food movement which the corporate system is trying to repress as an economic and political threat to its domination. Up against these assaults, we’ll often encounter the same sort of opposition, including the opposition King specifically addresses in his Letter.

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.

When we speak of the global ecological and human network and the global corporate assault upon it, in particular the global onslaught of poison-based agriculture, we know that anyone who lives as part of Earth can never be considered an outsider anywhere upon it. Conversely, corporations and the hominid functionaries of corporations are purely alien to the Earth, nothing but parasite squatters on the planet’s surface. They never can be considered part of Earth or humanity. They themselves proclaim this with their ugly foreigners’ disdain for what they call “the rock” with its “messy nature”.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham.

1. The injustice is clear.
There’s many reasons to abolish poison-based agriculture. It’s agronomically and environmentally totalitarian. It poisons the soil, all crops and the environment. It accelerates soil, water, air, and habitat destruction. Industrial agriculture is by far the worst driver of the climate crisis. The longer humanity remains in thrall to industrial agriculture, the more abject its dependency shall become, the worse the environmental destruction shall be, and the more profoundly the global ecology shall be chaotically wrought.
Poison-based agriculture also is destroying our health. All pesticides cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, organ damage, and autoimmune disease such as allergies, asthma, autism, disease of the gut, and gastrointestinal inflammation which leads to every other kind of disease. These are just the best documented effects. It’s likely GMOs themselves also cause these health harms. Glyphpsate-tolerant crops are nutritionally denuded, and eating the processed foods made from them merely adds to the nutritional deficiency already inherent in diets centered on such “foods” and the many diseases this can cause or exacerbate.
The most amazing thing is how all this is over such a pathetic, worthless product. Pesticides and GMOs are shoddy, antiquated, failure-prone products based upon the backward, luddite mental framework of dealing with crop pests and disease with poison. Agricultural poisons and GMOs don’t work for any purpose which could actually help people. GMO yield is poor, no improvement over non-GM conventional agriculture. They require far more pesticides than non-GM conventional agriculture. By helping weeds and insect pests build resistance to pesticides, they generate pest resistance against themselves, uncontrollable by the same poisons which were supposed to be the reasons for having these GMOs in the first place. The ”special” GMOs – those for drought resistance, vitamin fortification, nitrogen-fixing, etc. – are all media hoaxes.
These factors build the despair, anger, and the sense of social, political, and economic bottlenecks which are driving the rising global will to rebuild the community food system and abolish the industrial food system.
2. We the people owe don’t it to those who in principle are our public servants to negotiate with them, but nevertheless we have done so ad nauseum. Citizens have fought for and passed anti-corporate legislation at the local level. Citizens and farmers have filed lawsuits like OSGATA vs. Monsanto. Almost everyone involved with the rising Community Food movement has wanted to do so with the blessing of the power structure and has been appeasement-minded about it.
No, we’ve done all we can to negotiate. The fact is, representative democracy itself with its elections were supposed to constitute such negotiations. But this always was a sham. System politicians have done nothing but lie to the people and have never felt the slightest obligation to live up to their promises after the election. Indeed, ideologues of fake electoral “democracy” have explicitly argued that the “representative” has no obligation to his constituents at all after the election is over, but is free to “vote his conscience”. In this case conscience is a euphemism for corrupt personal interest.
The “negotiation” failed. We can never have a responsible, responsive, legitimate government in its current form. In his reform context Martin Luther King came to a similar conclusion.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.

All that’s left to us is self-purification, and then to go out there and do it.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

This is a direct rejoinder to those who want to keep we the people kettled inside a polity-wide “free speech zone”.
King goes on to discuss the change of governmental administrations which never constitutes a structural change. He agrees with the anarchists: Only direct action ever accomplished anything, and it did so with nonviolent force.

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have not only the right, but the obligation, to disobey unjust laws:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Today things are even worse than Buber’s “I-it”. Mammon and the corporate technocracy seek to reduce all relationships to purely technical and money relationships. This system does not recognize the existence of human beings, only technology and money. It views all relationships as “it-it.” Corporate personhood and patents on life, two kinds of demon worship, represent the most clear distillations of this.
On the contrary, the only relationships are ecological relationships, most importantly to us the relations of human being to human being. Therefore the only just laws would be laws in harmony with ecosystems and interrelating constructively with them, since the only thing which biologically exists are these ecological relationships. Agricultural and ecological pioneers long knew this intuitively and empirically, and over the course of the 20th century science has confirmed it. By contrast, poison-based agriculture, genetic engineering, “intellectual property”, property in land, the corporate-held agricultural system, segregates we the people from our work, from our land, from our food, from our own bodies. The whole ideology of productionism, consumerism, scientism, technocracy, instrumental reason, arises out of a fundamental self-loathing and hatred for the physical earth and the physical human body.
The “I and Thou” invoked by Buber and King also signifies the human affinity with the Earth, its natural ecosystems, its soil, its crops, its food, and especially the earthly human labor which indelibly interacts with these. The “I and it” indicates our sundering from all that makes us human, our forced exile driven by corporate agriculture. Alien, anti-human corporations and all that comes from them render human society a destructive and self-destructive parasite squatter on the surface of the earth, no longer a constructive part of it. With every action corporate industrial agriculture expresses its contempt for the earth. It insults the soil as the cradle of all complex life, treating it as nothing but an inert medium. It insults the seed as the universal embryo, treating it as a commodity to be painted, pimped, and most of all controlled. It adds the obscene injury of its wholesale poisoning of the soil, air, water, crops, and environment.
Legally and ideologically also this is a surface squatter regime and an obscene alienation of humanity. The land, the soil, the very seed are “owned”, which word we must render in all corporate contexts as controlled and dominated by an alien, anti-human entity. Indeed, a patent on a seed is alienation squared, since the patent is an abominable segregation and sundering of we the people from our common heritage, and it’s “owned” by an alien, anti-human entity whose very existence is also an abomination.
Economically as well this is a surface squatter regime and an obscene alienation from humanity. Growing our food is the essential human labor, the core human economic activity, the primary economy, a deep cultural and spiritual endeavor. It’s the main form of our communion with the Earth and our thread of its harmony. We’re now to be alienated from this, driven off the land. For the Western middle class, into spiritual ghettos. For the global South, into physical concentration camps called shantytowns. And soon this bell tolls also for us in the West, as our economic liquidation proceeds and the capitalist era deteriorates to a more brutally direct mode of tyranny.
We’re all too familiar with this type today:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Today the “moderate” isn’t an outsider with a shallow understanding, but either a predatory collaborator or a willing part of the prey herd himself. His moderation and lukewarm stance are homicidal and suicidal. He sides with the oppressor against those who would fight.
King describes how the inertial mass deplores those who fight as “extremists”, as instigators of violence, and as being too impatient. But these charges are false. It’s the enemy who’s extreme, it’s the enemy who’s violent, and we’ve been far too patient for far too long.
But in all the things we do, we aren’t the ones generating the “tension” so unpleasant to conformists. Where it comes to that, we’re merely symptomatic:

Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

This is the only path forward.
King describes how the early Christians were sustained by their faith and their relentless will against long odds.

Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

The hardest thing is to overcome this feeling of astronomical intimidation. The mission is daunting, and existing institutions can play no constructive role.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

This will ring true for us today wherever we transpose it to any institution of the corporate-dominated system.
Today in the West the conflict isn’t over de jure slavery (but there’s still much of that worldwide) nor de jure segregation (but land policy is very effective at “segregating” out of existence small farmers who produce food for the community and do so without poisons; and in general we’re all being driven off the land and segregated into ghettos, shantytowns, tent cities, cemetaries), we are being economically destroyed and physically malnourished and poisoned. We are being given cancer. Ecosystems, carbon sinks, arable soil all over the world are physically poisoned and destroyed. New crop deployments based on massive upsurges in dicamba and 2,4-D will turn vast swathes of US cropland into the equivalent of Times Beach, while the “New Alliance” plan to recolonize Africa coupled with corporate-driven climate chaos threatens to turn all of sub-Saharan Africa into a literal desert. Does the Earth have the luxury of the “patience” King discusses here?

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Time itself is neutral, and the flow of time itself has no characteristic independent of what we choose to do with it. Abolitionism is a way of life. It’s not just labor toward a goal, let alone the ideas contained in the goal itself. Most of all it’s a way of life. The goal is most realized in the here and now, every day. This way of life means not only exercising ecology and freedom in any way we can but also fighting for it everywhere we must. This adds to the challenge and striving, but this challenge is the challenge of being human at all. In the context of King’s struggle he was writing of direct action in the most literal sense. Abolitionists of agricultural poisons will certainly have all too many opportunities and needs for such direct action as well. But primarily we rise to the direct action of rebuilding our agricultural and food systems, building agroecology and food sovereignty, propagating far and wide the ideas of these while rejecting the poison systems on a personal and group level and propagating the demolition and condemnation of the ideas of these.
The essence of humanity is to take responsibility for oneself within the community and ecology, to achieve power over oneself, to exercise one’s responsibility, combining one’s personal strength in free cooperation with others to build a free and prosperous human community. Only in such a community can we then create the space for the essence of humanity, positive freedom. This is spiritual freedom, creative freedom, political freedom, participatory freedom, ecological freedom. These can exist only on the basis of the cooperative prosperity which affords the time and opportunity for this freedom. Only this deserves the name democracy, and only this can be called in the most profound sense civilization.
Today corporate-technocratic barbarians seek to destroy democracy, civilization, agriculture, the world ecology, humanity itself. These barbarians are the opposite of the original tribes raging out of Central Asia. Those were the vigorous barbarians of ascent toward a richer civilization. Today’s barbarians of decadence are rotted and malevolent, ugly and stupid, meanly wicked. Their technology and wealth renders them the most powerful ruling class in history, at the same time that their utter lack of any redeeming quality whatsoever renders them history’s nadir, history’s most degraded, nihilistic, parasitic, worthless ruling class. They represent not a stage of Western Civilization but its final self-cannibalization. This is the end of this pseudo-civilization, for better or worse. The corporate barbarians certainly intend the worst: The full reinstatement of a slave economy, through economic liquidation, debt indenture, and corporate domination of agriculture and food.
We can defeat this satanic plan if we redeem from the wreckage of the corporate industrial agriculture system the greatest treasure we’ve won: The consciousness that we the people can feed ourselves and rule ourselves. We can realize and fulfill our freedom, well-being, and strength through full ecological democracy.
All we need is to accept this fact, believe in it, take responsibility for it, take action upon it. The true Human Renaissance beckons. This is the same human evolution and salvation for which Martin Luther King fought, for which he sat in jail, for which he wrote a letter from that jail.
We shall live up to the standard he and so many other great fighters for humanity have set for us. It’s a very high standard, and the forces ranged against us are powerful and evil. But we can do it. Freedom is ours wherever and whenever we want it. The time is ours whenever we choose it. Our freedom will assert itself as soon as we freely choose to fight for it.
Propagate the necessary new ideas.


  1. Here, in Oregon, as elsewhere, especially in the mountain west, the industrial forest cabal models itself on industrial agriculture. Short rotation (40 to 60 years is a “short” interval in the life in time of any dynamic forest) clear cut logging coupled with massive aerial application of a suite of herbicides, sometimes including 2-4 D and Atrazene along with Glyphosate, Imazipyr etc in witches brew combinations with unknown but certain synergistic effects, followed by the heavy monoculture restocking of Douglas Fir; this paradigm deals death to biodiversity, imperiled species and human health and happiness in the long run. 120 acre private land clear cuts are likened to corn or soy bean fields, to be treated in a similar ruthless, nature-negative manner.

    Making matters worse, the Bureau of Land Management, under political and industry pressure to “get the cut out” has commenced a renewal of its own version of the clear cut: “regeneration harvest.” Although this extractive model incorporates notably superior riparian protections, as compared to the private industrial model, and (currently) does not allow herbicide applications except for invasive species, it still introduces more relatively large forest canopy openings into watersheds already malignant with very large clear cuts greatly lacking in ecological considerations. High functioning, intact forested watersheds were ever and always the true source of health, wealth and happiness, supplying abundant clean cold water, wholesome air (including carbon sequestration/mitigation) and a cornucopia of biodiversity, useful to human beings but also intrinsically valuable in and of itself.

    Simply speaking and acting (even within the prescribed agency model, the National Environmental Policy Act NEPA) earns we aging conservation-minded volunteers the label “radical environmentalist” within the timber dominant counties of Western Oregon.

    Comment by Joseph Patrick Quinn — January 15, 2018 @ 3:12 pm

    • I wish I knew what to say. It’s horrible.

      Comment by Russ — January 16, 2018 @ 6:37 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.