Bring truth to your adversary relentlessly!
A Gandhi Vow
“I will confront my opponent’s words/actions relentlessly, refusing to give up or to compromise my truth (or any portion of it) unless my opponent proves me wrong. In that case, I will admit my error gratefully, seek my opponent’s forgiveness, and end the confrontation peacefully.”
The first and arguably the longest (most relentless) nonviolent direct action to end segregation in the U.S. began December 5, 1955 five days after Rosa Parks was arrested and ended 381 days later. It is an amazing example of the power of relentless resistance. That boycott was expected to last one day. A one day protest might feel good to the protesters but it would not have achieved the protester’s goal.
The black community of Montgomery had threatened but boycotts since 1949 when a group of black professional women began lobbying city officials to integrate the busses. In 1954, five years later, the president of that organization wrote a letter to the Mayor warning of a bus boycott that never happened. In 1955, a junior high student, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white person on the still-segregated busses of Montgomery. She was arrested and mistreated by the police. The black community was enraged by her treatment and launched a spontaneous boycott that ended quickly with absolutely no effect on city officials. Two months later a teenaged maid was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. This time there was no protest by the black community.
Montgomery officials had out-lasted boycotts and threats of boycotts for 16 years. They were certain that their busses would be segregated forever. A one-day boycott after Rosa Park’s arrest would have been another in the list of failures to integrate Montgomery’s busses. But at the end of that first day, civil rights history was changed forever. Martin Luther King, Jr. was elected chairman of the Montgomery Improvement Association. This 26-year-old pastor knew enough about Gandhi’s relentless nonviolent resistance to decide that the bus boycott would continue until they reached their goal. For 381 days roughly 40,000 black citizens of Montgomery refused to ride the busses. Old and young alike suffered much but when they finally stopped walking, the whole nation had been changed.