Countering MAGA movement with nonviolent extremism, by David W. Marshall

6/20/2024, 7 a.m.
Between 1941 and 1945 some 6 million Jews were systematically murdered across German-occupied Europe during World War II. As part …

Between 1941 and 1945 some 6 million Jews were systematically murdered across German-occupied Europe during World War II. As part of a state-sponsored genocide, two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population was executed. As a result, those of Jewish faith made it a point to never allow future generations to forget or become desensitized to what happened to the European Jews at the hands of the Nazi regime. 

“Never again” became a slogan associated with the lessons of the Holocaust, and that slogan appears on many Holocaust memorials. It was used by liberated prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp to denounce fascism. As we continue to witness consistent efforts to turn back the clock and “Make America Great Again,” those efforts should be resisted and pushed back with an attitude of “Never again” combined with “Never forget.”

In this era of misinformation and the distortion of the truth, the “Never again” slogan needs to resonate throughout Black communities as it does within Jewish populations.

Any tragic event against humanity should be a stark and constant reminder that extreme dangers of hate, evil and bigotry still exist in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. To allow the atrocities associated with the Holocaust, slavery, racial massacres and lynching become a faint memory will be an insult to those who suffered and were murdered.

To dismiss the reasons behind their suffering along with the social changes many of them fought for represents a lack of appreciation for those who personally sacrificed to make our lives as future citizens easier.

“Never again” keeps us guarded to the fact that discriminatory laws from the past can be changed or removed, but that does not automatically change the heart of the individual who embraced them. Therefore, we should never forget men and women like the Rev. James Lawson.

Lawson, who recently passed away, was called to establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which sought to organize the spontaneous efforts of tens of thousands of students who began challenging Jim Crow laws across the South. He was a close adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called him “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

The two pastors and civil rights leaders knew from their painful experiences that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed. This became their justification for the nonviolent direct action campaign.

Lawson led workshops in church basements that taught and prepared John Lewis, Marion Barry, the Freedom Riders and many others to peacefully withstand vicious verbal and physical attacks as they challenged racist laws and policies. Those lessons became instrumental in leading Nashville, Tenn., to become the first major city in the South to desegregate its downtown after hundreds of well-organized students staged lunch counter sit-ins and boycotts of discriminatory businesses. As Lawson was the architect of the nonviolent sit-in protests, his significant contribution was to introduce Gandhian principles to people more familiar with biblical teachings. In doing so, it showed how direct action tactics could expose the immorality and fragility of racist white power structures. 

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King referenced the importance of nonviolent direct action. He wrote, “If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.”

Those who were part of the nonviolent movement would soon be categorized as extremists. In his letter, King also wrote, “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”.

It became Rev. Lawson’s life mission to preach the power of nonviolent direct action. For that reason, we should remember and appreciate him as an extremist for love and the extension of justice.

The purpose of our rage is to follow the example of those before us by being extremists for love and for the extension of justice.

The writer is the founder of the faith-based organization,TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America.