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. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
re-reading it this time, the discussion of "constructive, nonviolent tension" reminded me of what's been going on regarding race in SF circles in the last couple of years. I believe the tension and conflict are leading to growth and change for the better. It reminds me of a line from the movie Cry Freedom. Steve Biko is arguing in a white court in South Africa in defense of black consciousness activists who have been arrested for speaking out at public gatherings against the government, an act that is treated as terrorism. Biko argues eloquently with the prosecution:
Official: "Your answer to [the actions of the government] is to provoke violence in the black community."
Biko: " - No, our movement seeks to avoid violence."
Oficial: "But your own words call for direct confrontation!"
Biko: "That's right. We demand confrontation."
Oficial: "Isn't that a demand for violence?"
Biko: "Well you and I are now in confrontation, but I see no violence."
Judge: "But surely that approach inflames racial hatred and anti-whitism."
Biko: "My lord, blacks are not unaware of the hardships they endure or what the government is doing to them. We want them to stop accepting these hardships - to confront them. People must not just give in to the hardships of life, they must find a way, even in this environment, to ... to develop hope. Hope for themselves, hope for this country. Now I think that is what black consciousness is all about. Now, without any reference to the white man, to try and build up a sense of our own humanity - our legitimate place in the world."