King and Douglass on What is Needed

A solution of the present crisis will not take place unless men and women work for it. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, p. 197

Three days from now, January 15, will be the first day of the 95th year since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. It’s a federal holiday, won through the years-long struggle decades ago of many people who organized for it to be so. Because they did that work, for the last 39 years and for decades to come, young people and all people in the USA learn about Dr. King at this time, are exposed to some of his ideas, and without question this contributes to the building and strengthening of movements for justice, equal rights and peace.

People need examples of clarity and courage to be so themselves.

However, King’s quote above should deepen our understanding of what our responsibilities are as people trying to change the world for the better. Substantive change, change that is desperately needed, doesn’t happen without hard work, without “sacrifice, suffering and struggle.”

Frederick Douglass is famous for something similar that he said on August 4, 1857:

Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are those who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

King and Douglass were not saying that our lives need to be constant work, constant struggle against the racist, rich and regressive, predominantly white men with whom we must do battle. Both of them were part of an African-grounded culture in which singing and community-building were central. The civil rights movement of the 1950’s was a movement where singing was essential to the ability of that movement to ultimately win major victories, after years of struggle and sacrifice. And it wasn’t just singing in churches at rallies. People sang in jail. People sang when demonstrating right next to white racists. Singing gave them power.

2024 is a big year for us. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren and the seven generations to come need us to work hard and together on the major issues of today, to defeat Trump and the MAGA fascists, elect genuine progressives, and in so doing, lay the basis for the systemic, justice-based change the world urgently needs in this climate emergency time.

Ted Glick works with Beyond Extreme Energy and is president of 350NJ-Rockland. Past writings and other information, including about Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution, two books published by him in 2020 and 2021, can be found at He can be followed on Twitter at Read other articles by Ted.