Undoubtedly, there will be those who will attempt to maneuver the George Zimmerman verdict into an opportunity to allow them to act as if they are the heir apparent to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

Should that occur, the death of Trayvon Martin would be of little importance beyond an elongated news cycle that provided fodder for columnist, bloggers and talking heads when other events appeared wanting.

What would it say that in the aftermath of the verdict that one of the few accomplishments would have been to merely offer ammunition for hooligans looking for a reason to justify their thinly veiled desires to destroy property, as was the case in Oakland?

Maybe the Zimmerman verdict has brought us to a moral precipice, where our progress as a nation depends on returning to the question raised by King in his final book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?"

The frustration and anger many feel on the heels of the Zimmerman verdict may in some ways mask what's at the epicenter of their rage.

Rage can take many forms. It can be demonstrated by destroying property, but it can also be demonstrated by nonviolently shutting down a freeway.

It would be a misnomer to conclude that those who participated in the civil rights movement were not motivated by rage. But the rage was galvanized into nonviolent direct action.


Advertisement

Moreover, the March on Washington, which next month will commemorate its 50th anniversary, was focused on economics and justice.

In 1941, A. Phillip Randolph proposed a march on Washington based largely on fair working opportunities for African-Americans. Though the march never came to fruition, the need that spurred Randolph did not dissipate.

In 1963, the civil rights movement fighting for justice joined forces with Randolph's efforts, producing the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The cyclical nature of history seems to have again offered a possibility of transformation for the country. Could we not conclude that the frustration many Americans feel is based on what they perceive as a lack of opportunity and a concern for justice?

Does that not potentially make the Occupy Wall Street movement and those concerned about the larger implications of the Zimmerman verdict natural allies?

If such a movement were to occur, it cannot be something that is given to the people by those already comfortably seated at the table of privilege; it must be something that is organically created.

From 1960-1968 there was a movement somewhere in the country challenging the status quo. While King was the most visible face, and his presence brought credibility and media attention, the majority of those movements were organized at the local level.

The sit-ins, freedom rides, Selma, Ala., Albany, Ga., Mississippi Democratic Party, Vietnam protests, and the sanitation workers strike in Memphis were not King-led movements.

But the King question looms large nevertheless: Where do we go from here? Is it business as usual; is it chaos or community?

Those who desire change must bear in mind three prerequisites:

  • Change and discomfort are correlatives.

  • Change must begin as the minority opinion, at least as it relates to the dominate culture.

  • The primary beneficiaries of the stated change must also be the main artisans.

    There is an added burden that change must transform the present ethos. Civil rights was not viewed as a pressing issue in 1963, until the nation saw the brutality of the police dogs and fire hoses turned on children, and witnessed King's response several months later in his "I Have a Dream" address.

    Like 1963, this is a moment ripe for change. Will it be seized proactively or will it languish in reactionary doldrums?

    Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.