Thursday, September 30, 2021

International Day of Non-Violence 2021: Raising awareness with Satyagraha

 We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it. - Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

October 2nd has been recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Non-Violence. This date was selected to reflect on this powerful idea, because on October 2, 1869 Mohandas Gandhi was born in India.  The United Nations describes Gandhi as the "leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence." 

On September 11, 1906 in South Africa, unhappy with the term passive resistance to describe nonviolence he convened a contest that led to a new word "Satyagraha" taken from Sanskrit words that Gandhi described as follows: "Truth (Satya) [that] implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force."

Saturday, October 2nd is the day to share the message of nonviolence through education and awareness. It is a powerful idea that recognizes the dignity and power inherent in each individual, while at the same time recognizing that harnessing force through disciplined, strategic and non-violent action magnifies the power of the individual and when working in concert with others can become an unstoppable force for positive change. The life and example of Congressman John Lewis, who passed away in 2020, is an example of this.

Critics often cite that both Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, and that this demonstrates the failure of their nonviolent philosophy, but they fail to look at what they accomplished in the wider societies they inhabited, and their respective legacies decades later. Both changed their respective countries. Gandhi achieved Indian independence, and King ended official segregation, empowered African Americans with their full voting rights, and achieved much more.

Gene Sharp who also taught generations of activists that there was an alternative to bloody conflict and that it was non-violent armed conflict. He demonstrated, as both Gandhi and King understood and practiced, that there was nothing passive about nonviolent resistance and that it also required strategy to increase the odds of success in a struggle. In 1990 at the National Conference on Nonviolent Sanctions and Defense in Boston, Gene Sharp succinctly outlined his argument.

"I say nonviolent struggle is armed struggle. And we have to take back that term from those advocates of violence who seek to justify with pretty words that kind of combat. Only with this type of struggle one fights with psychological weapons, social weapons, economic weapons and political weapons. And that this is ultimately more powerful against oppression, injustice and tyranny then violence."

This idea has extended to many places, and cultures around the world, but it is co-existing in conflict with ideologies like Marxism-Leninism that are based in class struggle, revenge redefined as justice, and violence elevated as a superior tool of struggle. Both Gandhi and King understood this latter approach to be profoundly counterproductive. 

Michael Nagler, a long time peace scholar, presents this idea as follows: Nonviolence sometimes “works” and always works, while by contrast, Violence sometimes “works” and never works.  Nagler offers a more detailed explanation.

The exercise of violence always has a destructive effect on human relationships even when, as sometimes happens, it accomplishes some short-term goal. The exercise of nonviolence, or Satyagraha, always brings people closer. This explains why Gandhi, after fifty years of experimentation in every walk of life, could declare that he “knew of no single case in which it had failed.” Where it seemed to fail he concluded that he or the other satyagrahis had in some way failed to live up to its steep challenge.  Taking the long view, he was able to declare that “There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence. The end of violence is surest defeat.”

 Below are several videos that introduce nonviolence and how it works.


The secret to effective nonviolent resistance | Jamila Raqib



The 20th Annual Mahatma Gandhi Lecture on Nonviolence


Groundbreaking New Study: The Role of External Support in Nonviolent Campaigns (ICNC Webinar)

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