Any true community event has an army of people behind it knitting things together, underneath it holding up parts that sag, and all around it picking up loose ends. So too the Martin Luther King, Jr. event in Geneva, this year centered at The Smith.
The number of individuals, organizations, and churches leading, participating, and just plain doing the grunt work to make it happen, is lavish. The African American Men’s Association, a legion of cooks-bakers-ushers-and-musicians, Geneva public school students, police and HWS students – all of them and more are like angels dancing on the head of a pin, too many to count.
It began, as it has for forty-nine years, with a march. Starting at the Public Safety Building it proceeds through the streets of downtown, and by tradition it must be really cold. Led with joyous energy by The Rev. Donald Golden, marchers stop and prayed (but actually proclaimed) at key points along the way. Bigwigs like City Manager, Sage Gerling, and HWS President, Joyce P. Jacobsen were there, as well as friends, neighbors, and students from many of the neighborhoods of Geneva. I even saw some folks from Lyons and Seneca Falls.
The march led into a two-hour Memorial Service at The Smith with glorious gospel choirs, speakers, and readings from the student arts and poetry winners. It ended with a feast at Geneva Methodist Church. Nestled in all that glorious activity like a bird’s nest holding eggs in the protective arms of a giant tree, was the recitation of “Six Principles for Non-Violence.”
Oh yes, non-violence is that quiet but intensely muscular voice behind all of MLK’s actions and successes. It required non-violence to reveal to white America just how brutal and vicious our hatred was, and to others, how complicit was the neglect of smug white liberals.
King understood that Gandhi’s success in India came from demonstrating how brutal British colonialism really was underneath that haughty veneer of teacup culture. If the Civil Rights movement had been rooted in violence, it would have been met and crushed with the ferocious spirit of conquest living at the heart of imperial America. Non-violence is primarily a strategy and tactic applied with courage, discipline, and gut-wrenching persistence rather than some wispy notion of moral purity.
Principle Three is “attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil.” Just that one principle, if embodied and followed by the current progressive agents of change, would radically alter our political culture. Practiced with stubborn consistency, it would more clearly reveal the true nature of its opposition. Principle Two: “Beloved community is the goal.”
“Beloved community” is King’s description of sharing mutually in the wealth of the earth. True community is formed by a deep and sober recognition of our interdependence – individuals understanding that their well-being and future is dependent upon everyone else thriving also. Poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, and bigotry are seen as a threat to everyone’s self-interest in such a community, and so, not tolerated.
Beloved community is the goal, not satisfying our seething bitterness toward those who do evil. In fact, sucking from the straw of our resentments and prejudices leads to doing evil ourselves, not furthering the pursuit of beloved community.