The Power of Activist Journalism


| 1/24/2013 12:05:01 PM


Tags: Martin Luther King, Street Spirit, Terry Messman, Anti-Nuclear Activism, Waging Nonviolence, Ken Butigan.,
Street-Spirit

This story originally appeared at WagingNonviolence.org.  

Stories are central to our existential job description: making sense of both the world and ourselves. From creation myths to scientific explanations, from political ideologies to the quirky narratives that knead our own amorphous lives into some kind of distinctive shape, stories are essential — not only because they nudge the disconnected bits of reality we face moment to moment into a plausible and graspable form, but because they go to the heart of our identity and purpose.

This goes for navigating our lives. But it also goes for changing the world.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says that life poses two fundamental questions —What are we willing to live for? What are we willing to die for? — he presupposes a story that makes these questions intelligible. For Dr. King, this story centered on a harrowing and improbable expedition to what he doggedly called the Beloved Community, a world where all human beings will one day sit at the same table, live together in The World House, and make good on the hunch that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. This story does not come with a warranty or scientific proof. Instead its truthfulness depends on how far we’re willing to go to embellish and inhabit it. This story’s power flows, not from its lyrical metaphors, but from its ongoing, risky embodiment.

The monumental challenges we face today — poverty and economic inequality, climate change, military intervention and surveillance, unjust immigration policies, handgun violence, white privilege and many others — resist transformation for many reasons, including the stubbornly enduring frames that keep them in place. The monumental change we need will hinge on a new way of looking at the world, and this in turn will be spurred on by powerful stories that bring that new worldview alive.

Violence draws life from the endless stories that push its power. But things can work the other way too. Stories of the nonviolent option can unexpectedly seep into our right brain, disturb the certitude of the violence operating system, and open breathing space. We are living in a time when, despite the tsunami of violence, we are hearing these counter-narratives more frequently. Part of the reason for this is that there is more nonviolent action than ever. But another is that we are on the lookout for these stories more than ever. When we put on the nonviolence eyewear and start poking around — as this site does — we start to see the power of nonviolent change everywhere.