Hillary Clinton Subtweets Manchin, Sinema, Lets Them Know What MLK Would Have Thought About Them

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Hillary Clinton Subtweets Manchin, Sinema, Lets Them Know What MLK Would Have Thought About Them

Hillary Clinton cast some fierce shade at filibuster-loving, voting-rights-obstructing Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on Friday when she tweeted:

MLK Jr. said: “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress." This is a subtweet.

That's from Dr. King’s 1963 "Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” Dr. King was arrested during the Birmingham campaign in Alabama. While in jail, enduring harsh treatment, Dr. King was smuggled a local newspaper that contained an open letter called – no, I’m not kidding — “A Call For Unity.” Eight very reasonable, very polite white moderate clergymen urged activists to quietly negotiate with segregationists for their human rights and appeal to the courts rather than noisily protest. That’s so divisive!

They’d also written "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense" in January 1963, which empathized with those who opposed desegregation but asked that people not make a big scene over it: "[T] here may be disagreement concerning laws and social change without advocating defiance, anarchy, and subversion.”

“A Call For Unity” was even more insufferable:

We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense," in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.

Yes, Dr. King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference were the “outsiders.” It’s also not quite “facing facts” to imply that Southern segregationists were responding constructively to the racial strife they themselves promoted. The white power structure unleashed hell on Black residents no matter how politely they expressed discontent. The “Call For Unity” was an appeal to a “negative peace” where Black people would continue to suffer. Dr. King’s response was scathing.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. […]

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. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.

Sinema runs from her constituents and seemingly dismisses outside pressure from anyone but her donors. Dr. King condemned the white moderate who prioritized unjust laws and arbitrary rules over human dignity. He regrettably concluded that the white moderate was a greater obstacle than the “White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner.” That sentiment expressed today might shock and appall modern white moderates, but it’s a fitting posthumous indictment of Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and so many others who prefer “civility” to justice. .

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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