About 140 people gathered in the Jordan Ballroom to hear civil rights activist Reverend C. T. Vivian speak in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Vivian spoke on Jan. 26, eight days after Idaho Human Rights Day. Vivian received a standing ovation before he even spoke about civil rights, Dr. King himself and how society should approach social issues.
America has a long way to go.
Social movements require non-violent direct action
“It’s interesting that the worst thing in our culture was really racism,” Vivian said in an interview with The Arbiter. “It’s a denial of our democracy. It’s a denial of our faiths, all of them. It’s the worst thing about our culture and what changed it was ministers. It wasn’t law.”
For Vivian, King lead a moral and spiritual movement for Civil Rights. While there were laws that advocated for civil rights, Vivian said they were not always followed.
While most of America has overcome outright racism, according to Vivian, King’s social movement philosophies are still applicable in today’s social movements.
“You can’t catch Martin or why he’s important if you don’t understand non-violent direct action,” Vivian said. “He solved the problem. We taught people how to win without blowing your mind or blowing your head or somebody else’s head.”
Society needs moral and spiritual values
King gave us the answer to leading social movements to solve social issues, howeer all of the issues haven’t been solved.
As a minister, Vivian holds strong to the importance of having moral and spiritual values that are not necessarily associated with any particular religion.
“There used to be a time where all of us, I mean the whole nation, was concerned with moral and spiritual values. That is not true today,” Vivian said. “I believe, of course, that the greatest value of all is love. The less people love each other, the less people like each other, the less people see our humanity in each other, the less likely we are to be as human as we need be to really make a meaningful culture.”
According to Vivian, America has the tools to lead social movements and affect change because of non-violent action taught and demonstrated by King. However, without the purpose of love felt by both parties, problems will remain unsolved.
In addition to love, Vivian acknowledged social movements require suffering.
“If you suffered, you got it. If you suffered, you knew you’d want to do anything to get rid of that (suffering). That makes a lot of difference,” Vivian said.
Where we need to go in current movements
Tania Torres, sophomore elementary and bi-lingual education major at CWI, and Lindsey Paynter, senior biology major at Boise State, said they appreciated Vivian’s focal point of non-violent action in his keynote address, because they are seeing it in social movements today like those for Michael Brown.
“I feel we need to continue to do that and we need to continue to do that and organize together and fight for our common cause,” Paynter said.
Torres and Paynter said they feel this peaceful organization is something students who didn’t attend Vivian’s speech should know about.
They also felt that a lack of awareness is detrimental to social movements and change in today’s society.
“I think what society is doing wrong is they’re not really aware of things that are going on,” Torres said. “There are just so many distractions now-a-days that. We have so much knowledge available to us like on the Internet and stuff and nobody’s really using that to their advantage.”
As Vivian said, a lack of love is also stopping change.
“You have to understand finally without love you won’t remain non-violent and use it in all parts of life. That’s the ultimate goal,” Vivian said. “For 2,000 years, we’ve been taught it and still don’t want it. When I say don’t want it, I mean we haven’t made certain it’s the number one thing in our lives. We go to churches where we tell ourselves ‘Oh yes, he’s Jesus and he loves and the greatest love of all…’ But when it comes down to living it, we haven’t gotten there in 2,000 years, which says we haven’t tried very hard.”
Where we need to go in the future
Beside love, according to Vivian, America, and to a larger extent the world, needs to revisit their moral and spiritual values.
“Violence. Materialism. We’ve almost forgot what moral and spiritual understandings are,” Vivian said. “Moral and spiritual understandings are the base of everything to create a meaningful culture. And we’re so materialistic that we’ve almost forgot how to be human.”
Vivian said, while the past is important, one thing society doesn’t do enough of is look toward the future. Social movements are about moving forward. For Vivian, some of them suffer before they are even acted upon.
“Although we have a great movement, we very seldom talk about the future of mankind,” Vivian said. “As soon as we start talking about the depths of something, we generally think of it as not going to make it, so we don’t talk about the future in a meaningful human way.”