Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Season for Nonviolence: Honoring Gandhi, King and Payá through action

"A courageous man prefers death to the surrender of self-respect." - Mohandas Gandhi

"I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." - Martin Luther King Jr.

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

Gandhi, King and Payá: Brothers in Nonviolence and Martyrdom

One was a practicing lawyer and Hindu, the second a baptist minister and a Christian, and the third an engineer and a lay catholic. All three died under violent circumstances and many believe that conspiracies were organized against them to take their lives. All three were dedicated to making the world a better place using nonviolent means. The lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi, sought an end to colonial rule in his homeland of India. The baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr., sought to end racial segregation in the United States. The engineer, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, sought to end more than five decades of dictatorship in his homeland of Cuba. 

Arun Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi's grandson, began the Season for Non-violence in 1998 at the United Nations observing the 64 days on the calendar between the January 30, 1948 assassination of Gandhi and the April 4, 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifteen years later it is still being observed and is open for all to take part. Participants are asked to take a pledge of nonviolence which involves respecting yourself and others, communicating honestly, listening, to engage in forgiveness, respecting nature, playing creatively, and to be courageous.

The Free Cuba Foundation, a student movement founded at Florida International University, observed the first and tenth Season for Non-Violence with essay contests, panel discussions and films on Gandhi, King and Jose Marti. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, on July 22, 2012 lifted him into the pantheon of martyred advocates of nonviolence.

Yesterday, we observed the 33rd anniversary of the birth of Harold Cepero Escalante, a Christian Liberation Movement activist who had been traveling with Oswaldo when both were killed. Oswaldo's birthday falls on February 29. This year we will be observing what should have been his 61st birthday.

For Cubans, February has become a month of mourning. On February 23, 2010 prisoner of conscience and human rights defender, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died on hunger strike. Another painful anniversary, is on February 24, 1996 when two Brothers to the Rescue planes were shot down over international airspace instantly killing  Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario M. de la Peña, and Pablo Morales while engaged in a search and rescue for Cuban balseros

Therefore, for Cubans, the Season for Nonviolence has even greater meaning. It is a time of prayers, vigils, and nonviolent protests to remember these martyrs. All of these Cubans were inspired by the examples of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and they understood and demonstrated through their courage that there is nothing passive about resisting evil using nonviolent means.

Today, marks another anniversary that demonstrates the power and courage of a nonviolent stand. Martin Luther King Jr. had received a death threat in the midst of the Montgomery Bus Boycott to get out of town or they would blow his house up and blow his brains out. On January 30, 1956 his house was bombed and angry black men gathered with weapons demanding payback for the act of terrorism. Martin Luther King Jr., raised his hand asking for silence and told the crowd: “If you have weapons, take them home.  If you do not have them, please do not seek them. We cannot solve this problem through violence. We must meet violence with non-violence. Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Remember this movement will not stop, because God is with it.” The angry crowd dispersed and the nonviolent character of the boycott and civil rights movement was preserved. 

The next 64 days present an opportunity to make a personal commitment to practice nonviolence, following Gandhi's example of making your life your message, finding value in your life by finding, as Martin Luther King Jr did, something that you are willing to die for and Oswaldo Paya's example by being able to say that the first victory that you can declare is that your heart is free of hatred.

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