Like so many people around he world and in the United States, I was mesmerized by watching, listening and reading about events unfolding in Cairo over the past 18 days. So, so many thoughts from the past;
especially about those extraordinary years with innumerable friends from the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States.
I thought of December 10th, 1964, Oslo, Norway. Gunnar Jahn, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, in presenting the Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King, Jr., said "He is the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence... He has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races."
The events in Egypt represent a massive eloquent validation of the moral force and power of non-violent civil disobedience. A 21st Century commemoration of the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I thought that in our country, every surviving participant in the Civil Rights Movement, especially those of us who worked under the leadership of Dr. King's commitment to non-violent participation in bringing about political and social change, should publicly and collectively shout, "We are all Egyptians today!"
In a recent book, BEHIND THE DREAM -- The Making of The Speech That Transformed a Nation, I speculated about the possible effect the use of cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Blackberrys and the Internet could have had on our efforts to organize the "March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom" at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, DC, August 28th, 1963. We were able to galvanize, by the use of Church pulpits, Synagogues, labor union halls, radio, and leaflets, more than 250,00 people, from all across the country to respond to the call for such a March issued three months earlier.
Thanks to the good fortune of longevity, I no longer have to speculate. Over the course of 18 days I saw Tahrir Square in Cairo, IN REAL TIME, the organizing power of the 21st Century tools of social networking.
Nicholas Kristoff, reporting from Cairo, for the New York Times wrote: "New technologies have lubricated the mechanisms of revolt. Facebook and Twitter make it easier for dissidents to network. Mobile phones mean that government brutality is more likely to end up on YouTube."
"Arab satellite television like Al Jazeera broke the government monopoly on information in Egypt. It played a greater role in promoting democracy in the Arab world than anything the United States did."
I watched the impassioned interview of Wael Ghonim, 30-year-old Google marketing executive, who spoke about his ordeal of arrest, imprisonment by Mubarak's Security Police. He said the Mubarak regime could arrest him and his protesting companions;they could imprison, torture and even kill them. But, he said, their thirst and desire to be free, to live in a democratic Egypt was not going to go away.
His words were reminiscent of words spoken a more than a half a century earlier. In December 1956, in speech to the First Annual Institute On Non-Violence and Social Change, in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King said: "There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of exploitation where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair."
Wael Ghonim's interview also reminded me of a the commentary by Victor Hugo in the 1800s,"More powerful than the march of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come."
I also reflected on the irony that Mubarak's gave up the reigns of power 28 years to the date when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years for his opposition to Apartheid in South Africa, and also on the 32nd anniversary of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.
Pulitzer prize columnist Tom Friedman of the New York Times referred to the young people in Cairo as the "Twitter-enabled Tahrir youth". "Watching so many Egyptians take pride in their freedom -- to listen to them say in different ways to themselves and each other 'I am somebody -- was to witness one the great triumphs of the human spirit."
This, together with President Obama's quotation from a speech of Dr. King on the occasion of the independence of Ghana about the transcendent value of freedom made me think of the universality of freedom, the transnational ubiquitous thirst for freedom; given a choice, the desire for participatory democracy and representative government by the overwhelming majority of people throughout the world.
"There is nothing in all the world greater than freedom. It is worth paying for; it is worth losing a job; it is worth going to jail for. I would rather be a free pauper than a rich slave. I would rather die in abject poverty with my convictions than live in inordinate riches with the lack of self-respect. Once more every Negro must be able to cry out with his forefathers: Before I'll be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord to be free." (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1956, Montgomery, Alabama)