Nonviolence does work; rampage, cruelty and destruction do not

The betrayal of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


A popular, but deceitful and dangerous maxim today holds that nonviolence does not work.

That's the latest excuse for the violence that's racking the country after the peaceful protests flowing from the policeman's murder of George Floyd turned into brutish, sometimes fatal, assaults.

It's as if the political left has become convinced that the only path to justice was injustice, to peace was riot, to understanding was hatred.

The problem is: It doesn't. None of it does. If history shows us anything, exactly the opposite happens.

Case in point: The violence of 1968 gave us not peace; it gave us Richard Nixon. All the turmoil from the Democratic convention when that day's antifa provoked Chicago police (feces thrown at them, etc.) into what was appropriately called a police riot handed the presidential election over to Nixon. The Days of Rage in which the Weather Underground rampaged for three days in downtown Chicago sealed the election of "law and order" Nixon. The fatal Sterling Hall bombing at the University of Wisconsin helped seal a second term for Nixon even though the Watergate scandal had already started to unfold.

History is replete with nonviolent movements that were impactful. Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent resistance helped achieve India's independence. In America, Women's suffrage was achieved through nonviolent means.

The Martin Luther King Institute at Stanford University summed up his success:

As a theologian, Martin Luther King reflected often on his understanding of nonviolence. He described his own “pilgrimage to nonviolence” in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and in subsequent books and articles. “True pacifism,” or “nonviolent resistance,” King wrote, is “a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love” (King, Stride, 80). Both “morally and practically” committed to nonviolence, King believed that “the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” (King, Stride, 79; Papers 5:422).

What King's civil rights movement achieved, I dare say, was the successful confrontation of racist evils that were more widespread, openly practiced and fatal than the systemic racism that is today's target of protest. Yes, you can argue that today's evils are more insidious. Being less overt, racism today is a more of a disease of the heart--one that is more effectively cured by love and respect.

Some 200,000 to 300,000 people gathered peacefully at the 1963 March on Washington to hear King's moving "I have a dream" speech. Cautioning against vengeful violence, he spoke:

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

And so it was. The sight of peaceful marchers being bludgeoned by rampaging cops turned America's heart against the evils of Jim Crow and towards conciliation. To the Civil Rights Act. To open housing laws. To public accommodations available to all. To the end of separate but equal schools. And more.

We can disagree with whether today's racism is deeper than then, but if you want to move forward, it is time for a leader like the Rev. Martin Luther King to emerge, to lead us not into the "valley of despair" but to where freedom rings,

...from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Related: Here is someone who argues that violence is necessary. She asks: "How should the oppressed respond to their oppressors?" This is full of non sequiturs, false comparisons and downright scary. 

My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

To subscribe to the Barbershop, type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Leave a comment
  • Thank you, Dennis. This is well and clearly stated.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Thanks, Margaret.

Leave a comment

  • Advertisement:
  • Advertisement:
  • ChicagoNow is full of win

    Welcome to ChicagoNow.

    Meet our bloggers,
    post comments, or
    pitch your blog idea.

  • Visit my new website

    I'm a freelance writer, editor and author. I can help you with a wide variety of projects. Check out my new website at

  • Subscribe to The Barbershop

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

  • Dennis Byrne’s Facebook Fan Page

  • Like me on Facebook

  • Our National Debt

  • Twitter

  • Tags

  • Recent Comments

  • /Users/dennisby/Desktop/trailer.mp4
  • Latest on ChicagoNow

  • Advertisement: