“Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand” & the New Poor People’s Campaign

Photo by Maryland GovPics | CC BY 2.0

The global remembering last month of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the 2018 reboot of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1967-68 suggests that the links between the past and the present are ever evolving and that the past is always present. At this point, it is important to access past demands not achieved, as well as new demands not yet attained, nor arguably made clearly.

In 1857, Frederick Douglass emphasized what have become some of his most quoted words: “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” Continued Douglass, “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation … want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

Douglass admonished the crowd, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and 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.” As Douglass knew first-hand, “Find out just what a people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted…. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Douglass was not the last person to make such observations about oppression, struggle, human…

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