Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Martin Luther King, Anarchism, and Tom Cruise's Valkyrie

While school has started and as a result my entire being feels zipped up to a citrus-hot high-voltage current of excitement and curiosity, I'm still pissed off at Tom Cruise's latest gobsmacker Valkyrie. Valkyrie annoyed me so because it was so good at what it was trying to do, which is tell a story of good vs. evil where people do the right thing, and history honors them for it. What utter bullhocky. Pure Evil makes good posters:

But is hard to conjure up in day-to-day life. The problem with Cruise's tear-jerker is that it puts the bar for when a people should stand against authority so freakin' high. I mean, yeah, these guys did the right thing in the face of massive facist adversity, but it took 6 million systematized deaths for them to get around to it! And people, we need to resist and rebel long before things become that clear cut.

Which is why I'm jotting this down, the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on the eve of the inauguration of a black President. I just watched an excerpt of another film, Eyes on the Prize, a Civil rights documentary series that's about a bazillion hours long. It's a good watch that shows how turbulent the movement was, how punitive and reactionary the whites in power, esp. Eugene "Bull" Connor, were. Police Commissioner Connor and his ilk were racist fucks who were voted out of office, but refused to give up their positions. The city actually had two sets of governments for something like 114 days, in which time both groups would meet separately, pass laws, spend money, etc. Trouble was, the police force was still in the hands of Connor, who proceeded to trample all over citizen's rights to assemble by breaking up MLK's anti-segregation protests and marches with police dogs, fire hoses, and mass mass arrests. The black organizers cleverly (and controversially) got the non-working members of their community to create the groundswell for this direct action, so they could keep paying their bills as well as waging a political struggle. That essentially meant the high-school age children made up the protest body. They arrested children by the paddy wagon for simply demonstrating, and when the paddy wagons filled up they brought out school busses, and then the jails filled up. Then they simply hit people with hoses, sic'ed police dogs on them, and went out at night with klansman masks on to blow up MLK and other's hotels. The police responded to the crowds gathered at the exploded hotel rooms by beating up blacks.

I didn't really know any of this, but more interesting to me was how much MLK was a proponent of direct action. Check out his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

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."

Funny to think that some of the most effective direct activists were southern christians who are heralded as great, great men by the history books. Because in most places, 'direct action' is a dirty phrase, closely associated with an especially dirty concept: anarchism.

DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images via the big picture

Anarchists are deemed ineffective, dangerous, and thoughtless by mainstream society and the legal/media system that defines what mainstream is, but I bet Fox News is going to get all teary eyed talking about MLK on his government-assigned day. He's a hero to the mainstream in retrospect, now that they've seen the error of their ways and changed the law book. But MLK acted as a textbook anarchist. He intended to face the root causes of issues, rather than the superficial symptoms, which is what direct action is all about.

The thing is that in order to diagnose root causes you have to trust yourself to make the right decision, to know 'right' from 'wrong.' It is hard to be so certain in many situations. Take the Israel-Palestine conflict for example, where the 'truth' is vast, physically far away (from me, anyway), and most importantly obfuscated by biased information from impassioned sources on both sides of the issue. These arguments fall into the good/evil dichotomy, which is all well and good for Tom Cruise, but puts us contemporary human beings in a bit of a dilemma. When, if ever, do we act?

I don't know. King knew when he had to act, and talks about the 4 steps of non-violent direct action in his Birmingham Jail letter: "Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action." The point is, you must be sure what you're fighting for is worth fighting for, or you're just another punk kid in a mob. But once you're certain you can make positive change, whether by marching or speaking or film-making or any of the other great methods of communication we have available, be sure you do it. Because otherwise systems will continue to overstep their rules and oppress people.

Happy MLKjr Day/Inauguration!


~kitticus~ said...

Your posts always leave me wanting more and feeling slightly inadequate for the prattling I post on mine. :) Thank you for posting this. I feel like I need to go do a sit-in somewhere to morph from being one of the punk kids in a mob to something bigger....

Tom said...

I have to disagree with your use of the word anarchist, especially the attribution of textbook anarchist to MLK. Without things like central government and the rule of law civil rights couldn't never have been achieved (to whatever extent they have), and certainly not in the South. MLK was an organizer, a leader, an agent of change and social justice. 'Anarchists' are at best hopeless idealists whose proposition depends on a world made entirely of individuals who are ethically self regulating or at least one where everyone who is are w/o differing opinion on how to deal with those who aren't and are committed to actually doing so. All the rest are either just extreme libertarians misusing language or sociopathic, Heath Ledger Joker type motherfuckers.

You were totally right about Valkyrie though, fuck that Tom Cruise. I need to watch 'Apt Pupil' cause from a distance Bryan Singer's Nazi fascination seems a little too ambivalent. At least they knocked it out before Mel Gibson got his hands on the story, one can hardly imagine the kind of thinly veiled Third Reich apology we would have seen.

Anonymous said...

i once saw this stencil consisting of Che Guevara's famous hat + hair outline + the face of MLK - the basis was called MLK - the Revolutionary that the media never knew. the article was a bit forgettable, but the image was amazing.

Anonymous said...


Manda said...

Well written and well recalled :) I think that you have interesting ideas about anarchy, and your perspective as to how one might enact anarchy seems right on.

But I'd have to agree that the ideology concerning anarchy is not for a single common purpose that might bring about utalitarian results. Acting swiftly, as in the case of MLK, led to the greatest amount of good for a large amount of people which seems to align with democratic philosophy. Although, at times acting swiftly and demanding immediate results not always yields the most desirable results depending on the motivation behind it.

While I believe that in some instances it is positive to act quickly and throw many of the rules (or laws) out the window for a greater good, the idea of a "greater good" is relative. I see this in Hitler's notion of creating an entirely aerian race and having no inkling of doubt that what he was doing was a accomplishing a greater good.

That being said, I do agree with you in the spirit of change. It seems that the notion of throwing out traditional ideals is something that is at times averted at all possible costs (as in MLK's case). The problem is weeding out the truly "bad" from what might be considered culturally "good" or vice versa.

Thanks for sharing your enlightening point of view!

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