Jen Soriano

letter on non-violence, to my 8-month-old son

Photo by Naomi Ishisaka

photo by Naomi Ishisaka

Dear son,

I love a good protest.  By the time you read this you’ll already know that.  Yesterday we protested together, it was your third time out in the streets but your first time marching a whole march.  And what a march it was — a 2 mile route from the Central District, the historical heart of Seattle’s African-American community, to the Federal Building downtown — to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to protest something he surely would have taken to the streets to protest himself — the epidemic police violence against black people across the country.

Photo by Daniel Pak

Photo by Daniel Pak

After a stormy weekend the weather was calm, mild and the sun even came out to shine.  We took the number 8 from our place to Garfield High School. Friends joined us along the route until the front of the bus was full of babies strollers toddlers and parents.  We gathered outside the monumental steps of Garfield High, you bounced in your stroller to Common and John Legend gloriously broadcast from the Fenders, and we followed the hundreds of others streaming peacefully into the streets towards the federal building.  You had a blast, riding in a sling close to me, turning your head in all directions. And the louder the chants got the more you’d giggle with glee.

Apparently you love a good protest too.

It was your first Martin Luther King Day, and an especially important one in the wake of Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement that has risen to assert the humanity of all black people.  This year is also the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.  Unfortunately, given what’s going on, MLK’s legacy of non-violent struggle for equality couldn’t be more relevant today.

There’s so much things to say about such a troubled world. There are the murders.  A black person killed by police every 28 hours.  One of them, Mike Brown, left out in the street for more than 4 hours. Thousands murdered in Nigeria.  Seventeen dead in Paris.  Hundreds of children killed in Palestine.  Dozens of journalists executed.  That’s the devastating part.

Then there is the non-violent resistance.  Across the country communities organized 96 hours of non-violent direct action this weekend to #reclaimMLK’s radical legacy.  People who love you, your extended family of titas and titos, shut down the Oakland Federal Building for 4 hours and 28 minutes.  They hung a banner stories tall that said “Black Power Matters” and “3rdworld4blackpower”.  There are meetings and plans and visions brewing a new US movement for racial justice. That’s the hopeful part.

You’ve been born into a special time.  Really.  Things didn’t look like this when I was born in the mid 1970s.  The violence is old but there is much that is new: a country that will have a minority majority in your lifetime, where people of mixed race and non-binary gender will create more expansive norms, where millions of eyes can watch through an internet that must stay open and free.  And at this moment a new movement building that has grassroots organizing at its heart and the tendency towards justice as its wings.

What will be your role in it?  I can’t wait to witness.

Whatever your role will be, remember you have the legacy of resistance in your blood.  Organizing has helped both my people and your papa’s people survive centuries of violent colonialism. And it has helped us continue to sing and dance and struggle and transform even though conditions at home are still very hard.  The resistance has not always been peaceful, but King himself said that riots are the language of the unheard.  In the face of military abuses self-defense is sometimes necessary.  And there is a difference between destruction of property and violence against human beings. There is much more to say on this front, and I struggle with these questions all the time.

Photo by Ian Dapiaoen

Photo by Ian Dapiaoen

Whatever your role will be, I hope you’ll remember this heritage and also the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. By the time you read this I trust you will know more than the sanitized Dr. King, you will know the radical Dr. King whose day should be celebrated on the day of his murder – August 4th, one year to the day after he delivered his Beyond Vietnam speech – to remind us that he had a radical dream: he was an internationalist who connected the oppression of black people with the poor and people of color all over the world, and to remind us that this degree of clarity is dangerous.

It is easy to praise non-violence when we can march escorted by police and return home to comfortable lives. It can also be easy to romanticize armed struggle from the same vantage point.  But it’s the militant discipline of Kingian non-violence that I hope you will remember the most: the discipline of continuously choosing love over hate and non-violence over violence, even in the face of brutality and the constant threat of death.  That is the depth of commitment I aspire to, though faced with real threat I honestly don’t know what I would choose.

The buddha taught that we all have within us both the seeds of violence and the seeds of peace.  Cherokee legend talks of the battle inside, where two wolves – one evil and one good, fight for supremacy in each of us.  The one that will win is the one that we feed.

You have watered the seeds of peace within my soul and fed the wolf of good inside my heart.  So for now in return I’ll just leave you with this offering of what I feel are some of Dr. King’s truest words:

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

All my love,








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