Park Cannon’s MLK Day message: Keep Knocking—it’s nonviolent, direct action

On Monday evening, Georgia state representative Park Cannon addressed a packed house at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.

“Today marks 662 days since I spent five hours in the Fulton County Jail for knocking on the governor’s door,” she told the crowd, which had assembled for the city’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration.

Her talk drew on the episode at the governor’s door for its title: “Keep Knocking.”

Cannon also posed two questions for the crowd:

Do you have a deep understanding of what it means to move towards shared liberation?
Have you ever provided space for reflection and processing of grief, and injustice?

Cannon was introduced by Bloomington city clerk Nicole Bolden, who described Cannon’s election to Georgia’s legislature at the age of 23, which made her the second queer woman serving in the House.

Connon recounted the series of events that had led her to knock on Georgia governor Brian Kemp’s door two years ago—as he was signing into law a bill that significantly revised Georgia’s election laws.

That morning, the Democratic Party’s caucus learned that a two-page bill they had been tracking the day before had become a 98-page bill, rewriting all of the the voting code for the state of Georgia, Cannon said.

The bill changed everything from voter eligibility, to registration, to administration, to tabulation. The legislation was quickly passed by the rules committee and was put to a vote on the floor of the House, where it was approved, Cannon said.

The bill was immediately transmitted to the Senate, and was passed by the Senate. The House adjourned for the day, but as secretary of the caucus, Cannon said she likes to stick around to see what happens before and after.

Cannon received a text message: The bill was set to be signed by the governor in just about 10 minutes.

She went downstairs to knock on the governor’s door. In the moment when she started knocking, Cannon said, “I wasn’t thinking about this as an action of violence, knocking on the door.” She continued, “In fact, I was thinking about it as what Dr. King would do—an act of nonviolent direct action.

About King, Cannon said: “People love to talk about how he was nonviolent. But he was really about nonviolent direct action.

When she was sitting in jail, Cannon said she could not hear anything outside. But when she was released, and emerged outside, she saw the people who had assembled outside and were chanting in support of her.

Cannon said she realized at that point that all the actual direct action work she had been doing over the years was mattering.

To explain why the crowd had shown up to support her, Cannon quoted the activist Bayard Rustin: “People will never fight for your freedom, if you have not given evidence that you are prepared to fight for yourself.”

Drawing a sustained standing ovation was the question that Cannon posed to end her speech: “Are you prepared to fight for yourself?”


Photos: Jan. 16, 2023 MLK Birthday Celebration (Bloomington, Indiana)