Posted on 9 October 2019
The Speak Truth to Power pamphlet coined the term for non-violent protest, which is known and used throughout the world.
From their origins in mid 17th century England, Quakers first practiced Speaking Truth to Power when addressing people in authority. Seeking religious and social equality they would speak their truth to those who had the influence to make change happen. But it wouldn’t be until the 20th century that Speak Truth to Power would become a term in its own right.
In 1955, the American Friends Service Committee published Speak Truth to Power – A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence. Written by Bayard Rustin (1912 – 1987), a Friend who was a leader in civil and gay rights, the pamphlet was one in a series of five that explored how to “ease tension and move toward international peace” in a nuclear-armed world.
From the pamphlet’s introduction:
“The urgent need is not to preach religious truth, but to show how it is possible and why it is reasonable to give practical expression to it in the great conflict that now divides the world.”
“Our truth is an ancient one: that love endures and overcomes; that hatred destroys; that what is obtained by love is retained, but what is obtained by hatred proves a burden. This truth, fundamental to the position which rejects reliance on the method of war, is ultimately a religious perception, a belief that stands outside of history. Because of this we could not end this study without discussing the relationship between the politics of time with which men are daily concerned and the politics of eternity which they too easily ignore.”
Speak Truth to Power Pamphlet
Speak Truth to Power Today
The political tactic of using non-violent engagement with authority, that the pamphlet embraced, was heavily adopted by the US Civil Rights movements of the late 1950s onwards. Today, influenced by the approach of the Civil Rights movement, Speak Truth to Power has a more general meaning as a peaceful challenge to injustice and oppression.
Speaking Truth to Power means believing deeply in what you say and fighting every day to have that heard.
It may not be popular; it means taking a risk, it means standing for something.
Image from www.amazon.com