As our beloved Appalachian Hippie Poet said at Civic Saturday in Cookeville: “Light the damn torch and follow the light!” There is a light that never goes out and it has been passed on, leader to courageous leader and now to us, to you and to me.

When I am overwhelmed with all I see on the news, on Facebook, on Twitter, when I am not sure what to think or how to feel about any given issue, I am challenged to lean into the Constitution, to know it and test it and grapple with it as we see Dr King doing from the Birmingham Jail, when he writes: “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” He’s pleading the Constitution which at the time was being used against him, to arrest and imprison him, but would also serve to liberate him and all people of color along with him. Our laws are resilient, flexible, able to be manipulated and therefore must constantly be measured against the civic moral intention that informed the very foundation of our country, complicated as it may be, by a human history of self-interest.

We are in a time where much is being asked of us morally. We must act intentionally, in spite of circumstance, as the great leaders of the Civil Rights Movement did time and time again. Their faith in the Constitution and in the American Dream was undergirded by a moral fabric patterned in the principles of nonviolence –love over hate, courage over fear; hope over despair.

These are American principles. Traveling overseas, I’ve often been told “you Americans are so happy, so optimistic.” But I would argue that this is not optimism, because optimism applies to what you have no say in, like the Golden Eagles winning the homecoming game, or the weather today. What I’m talking about, and what others see in us, is hope — hope invites participation. Hope is intentional. Hope is active. Hope is not reliant upon the whims of the weather, the twitter feed or the stock market. Hope comes from within.

My hope in America is a complicated civic pride, you could call it patriotism. My patriotism is complicated by the tension between liberty (to do whatever I want) and justice for all (to consider others); between rugged individualism (each man for himself) and collective responsibility (loving thy neighbor); between radical secularism (no prayer in school) and religious nationalism (our creed and our creed only). But there is a deeper magic to our democracy, a moral foundation of power and character where intention informs action, guided by our Declaration of Independence, unified in a purpose of greatness so great it does not fit within any one party, label or identity beyond that of American. Active, intentional, character-powered citizenship is what makes America great.  And it is up to us, each and every one of us, to be true citizens, well-versed in power and well-rooted in character.

Today, we are following the leaders, the true leaders of our American legacy. Today we are watching King In The Wilderness . We are reading the principles of non-violence and remembering where we came from so we can better envision where we are going, where we as Americans are going.

-Kate Tucker, Creative Director, BriteHeart

Six Principles of Non-Violence
As described by Martin Luther King Jr in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom:

PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.  

PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.                                                                                                        
PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.
The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.

PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.
Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.    

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.           
Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.  

PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.
Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.   

Carl Shurz, American Statesman, Union Army general in the American Civil War, responding in the Senate, February 29, 1872., to the famous slogan derived from a statement of Wisconsin Senator Stephen Decatur: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”

To which Carl Shurz responded: “The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

To get involved, take the #getcivic survey and we’ll find your civic match.

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