Gandhi Sets the Task for Our Website

“The way of violence is old and established. It is not so difficult to do research in it. The way of nonviolence is new. The science of nonviolence is yet taking shape. We are still not conversant with all its aspects. There is a wide scope for research and experiment in this field. You can apply all your talents to it.”
M. K. Gandhi



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New Additions to the Nonviolence Canon

by Brian Martin

Dustwrapper for Nepstad’s book, courtesy global.oup.com

Interest in nonviolent action is greater today than it ever has been. This is reflected in the number and sophistication of nonviolent campaigns, in media coverage and popular understanding, and in new books. Several terrific new nonviolence books were published last year.

Decades ago, really good books in the area were uncommon. There was Gandhi’s autobiography, Richard Gregg’s The Power of Nonviolence (1934), and Joan Bondurant’s  Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (1958). These classic treatments are all in the Gandhian tradition, and each one is still worth reading today. Other favorites of mine are Bart de Ligt, The Conquest of Violence: An Essay on War and Revolution (1937), and Gene Sharp’s epic The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973). Each of Sharp’s three parts is available separately and is a book in itself. Back in the 1970s, I read it from beginning to end, but these days many just look at Sharp’s list of 198 methods of nonviolent action. Sharp put so-called “pragmatic nonviolent action” on the agenda as an alternative or complement to the Gandhian tradition. (Please see the note at the end for bibliographical details of the above titles.)

Below I review five books published in 2015 that make important contributions to the field, and also two others published in late 2015 and in 2016. Full disclosure: I should mention that I’m not a neutral commentator. For each of the first four books, I either commented on drafts of the text or on the book proposal. As you’ll see, I think they are all excellent and worth reading. (Please see the note at the end for full details of each of the titles under review.)

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John Lewis and the Spirit of Selma

by Terry Messman

John Lewis at Nashville sit-in, book cover of March: Book One, courtesy topshelfcomix.com

Editor’s Preface: John Robert Lewis (b. 1940) is the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, and the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. His district also includes the northern three-quarters of Atlanta. His Wikipedia page is a reliable starting point for information about his nonviolent civil rights activities and his political career. JG

It has now been 50 years since “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, when John Lewis and Hosea Williams led some 600 civil rights marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. The demonstrators attempted to march peacefully from Selma to Montgomery in support of voting rights, but state and local police viciously attacked the nonviolent procession, brutally beating them with whips and clubs, firing tear gas and charging the defenseless marchers on horseback. Hundreds of people suffered bloody beatings and some were clubbed nearly to death.

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Advocacy Journalism and the Movement for Human Rights: The Street Spirit Interview with Terry Messman

by Jess Clarke

Homeless in America; image courtesy web.stanford.edu

Interviewer’s Preface: Street Spirit is one of the longest-lived publications on poverty, homelessness and human rights in the United States; it is sold by homeless vendors in Oakland and Berkeley, California, and tirelessly defends the human rights of homeless people. Terry Messman produced the first issue in March 1995, and has edited and designed every issue for nearly 22 years. Please see the note at the end for further biographical details about Messman, and interviewer Jess Clarke. JC

  “What matters in the long run is staying true to the cause of justice. In the end,
that is the very meaning of our lives — whether we keep going, and keep working for peace and justice,
or give up in despair. It’s the question at the very heart of it all.” Terry Messman

 Jess Clarke: As the founder of Street Spirit, you’ve seen some of the important political trends in homeless organizing and human rights advocacy in the Bay Area. Looking at the big picture, when and why did you first found Street Spirit?

Terry Messman: We put out the first issue in March of 1995, so we’ve been going steadily nearly 22 years. It’s one of the longest-lived media of any kind in the nation to document the history of poverty, homelessness, and the movements to overcome economic injustice.

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Gandhi for Today’s World: The Yes! Magazine Interview with Vandana Shiva

by David Barsamian

Seed Satyagraha poster courtesy navdanya.org

Interviewer’s Preface: Vandana Shiva is an internationally renowned voice for sustainable development and social justice. She spoke in New Delhi with David Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio, during his December 2008 trip to India and Pakistan. Some say terrorism makes Gandhi irrelevant. Vandana Shiva, farmer, seed saver, and global justice activist, says we need him more than ever. Gandhi’s three pillars of freedom are now the keys to our survival. Here then are her thoughts on why Gandhi’s philosophy is still relevant—even in a world where terrorism is on the rise. Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end for biographical information about Vandana Shiva and David Barsamian. DB

David Barsamian: In the wake of the attacks on Mumbai in late November 2008, there was a piece in the (London) Sunday Express, “The Irony Gandhism Presents in Today’s Terror-Infested India.” The writer said, “It is time the government became doubly stern about its steps to combat terrorism. India may be the land of Mahatma Gandhi, but today’s situation warrants crude and cunning ways to counter extremism. That alone can ensure peace, harmony, and joy in the country.” Would you share your thoughts on this?

Vandana Shiva: Unfortunately, “crude” means of dealing with violence and terror just breed more violence and terror. As we saw after 9/11, the war on terror has created more terrorists. I think anyone who says that Gandhi is irrelevant in today’s world doesn’t understand either terrorism, its roots, or Gandhi. Suicide bombers don’t get created out of the blue; they are created as a result of decisions, systems, and processes. It’s very much like weeds in a field. One way to control weeds is by spraying Round-Up pesticides, but then you get Round-Up-resistant weeds, which are even stronger than the original weeds. That’s what is happening with terrorism.

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Seeds of Revolution: The ACRES U.S.A. Interview with Vandana Shiva

by Chris Walters

Photograph of Vandana Shiva courtesy ecofarmingdaily.com

Acres U.S.A.: How should we approach the story of Indian agriculture?

Vandana Shiva: The first thing you need to remember is that India is a land which has been farmed for 10,000 years continuously and sustains more than a billion people on its agriculture. India is the land where the British were the rulers, and in 1891 they sent John Augustus Voelcker to make a survey. He wrote a report on Indian agriculture that was published two years later. He said he could find more ways that Indian farmers could advise Great Britain about how to improve its farming than ways the British could advise India. He wrote that Indian agriculture was not backward, and that in many areas there was little or no room for improvement. Then the imperial British government sent Albert Howard to India in 1905. He arrived to find the fields were fertile. He found no pests damaging the crops, and he decided to make the study of peasant agriculture his profession. The agricultural testament that resulted from his studies became the basis of the organic movement worldwide — the Soil Association in the U.K., Rodale in the United States, all of them came out of Howard’s information, and Howard’s inspiration was ancient Indian agriculture. He so clearly distinguished between, as he said, the agriculture of the Occidental world and the agriculture of the Orient.

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Protecting the Earth with Vandana Shiva

by John Dear 

Photo of Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organic farm courtesy avery.wellesley.edu

As I follow the regular, dire reports on global warming, I recall my visit two years ago (2007) into the foothills of the Himalayas near the border of China and Nepal, north of Dehradun in India. There I met Dr. Vandana Shiva, a leading anti-globalization and environmental activist, a brilliant, engaging scientist and Gandhian activist.

She has taken up a formidable challenge, a nonviolent civil resistance campaign to resist globalization and protect farmers, not to mention the earth itself. Her strategy is to harvest every endangered seed and indigenous plant, restore the soil to its original richness, and save the seeds from corporate patent theft by creating “seed banks.” She is a modern-day Noah, gathering for the future the plants of the world.

I toured Navdanya Farm, her farming commune and laboratory for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights, then moved on to see Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University), a college she founded to teach sustainable living and global alternatives. There one learns new ways to cook, garden, compost, farm, organize politically, and practice yoga.

The fields of Navdanya Farm teem with every imaginable crop and spice. Over 600 species of plants grow there, along with 250 types of rice. White egrets pace gracefully among the fields. Here agricultural scientists have also embraced Gandhian nonviolent resistance methods to protect the earth.

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The Story of Salt

by Mohinder Singh

Map of Gandhi’s salt march courtesy indiansaltmarch.weebly.com

Editor’s Preface: Gandhi’s Salt March was one of his most significant nonviolent civil resistance campaigns, yet without knowing some of the historical significance of salt his symbolic gesture of gathering a handful cannot be understood. For further reflections on Gandhi and salt see also the article ”Salty Gandhi” by William J. Jackson posted here. The note at the end has further information and acknowledgments. JG

The German scholar M.J. Schleiden in his book Das Salz (Leipzig, 1875) contended that there was a direct correlation between salt taxes and despots. Athens did not tax salt, but China and Mexico were salt-taxing tyrannies. Using the salt-taxation yardstick, British rule in India was patently despotic.

Salt taxation originated in China. The earliest known written text on salt regulation is the Chinese Guanzi: On Weighing and Balancing Economic Factors (c. 300 B.C.). It argued that people cannot do without salt, and in their desperation would be willing to pay a high price; it states ‘Coastal states dependent upon the resources of the ocean should cautiously and reasonably establish a tax on salt.’ In due course, this proposal became the adopted policy of the Chinese emperors and the first known instance of a state-controlled monopoly of a vital commodity. The revenues from salt taxation were used to build not only armies but also defensive structures such as the Great Wall. At one time over half of the state’s revenue was derived from salt. Any popular manifestation of resentment against it was handled with an iron fist.

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Aspects of Nonviolence in American Culture

by Mulford Q. Sibley

Edward Hicks, “William Penn’s Peace Treaty with the Indians”; courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: Mulford Sibley wrote this article in the early 1960s as his contribution to the scarce anthology Gandhi: His Relevance for our Times, edited by G. Ramachandran and T. K. Mahadevan, New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1962. Please see the Editor’s Note at the end for further information about Sibley, and acknowledgments. JG

American culture, it is sometimes said, has been peculiarly violent, both in outlook and in practice. It has exalted physical force, praised rough action, and placed in the forefront such cynical statements as “Fear God and keep your powder dry.” One of America’s leading Presidents Theodore Roosevelt is well known for his advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick.” (1) Violence has been associated with the frontier spirit, the Westward movement treatment of the American Indian, the rise of business corporations, and the development of labor organizations. Violent crimes are more numerous proportionately than in most other nations of the world; and the police, by contrast with those in Britain, are heavily armed. Popular culture, moreover, if we are to take radio, television, cinema, and pulp magazines as indicators, exults in violence.

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Nonviolence, Disidentification, and Equality

by Todd May

Logo International Day of Nonviolence; courtesy askideas.com

It started quietly and almost spontaneously. At 4:30 in the afternoon on February 1, 1960, four black college freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University decided, after some deliberation, to sit down at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina whites-only lunch counter, and try to order. The waitress, herself black, refused to serve them. They waited until the Woolworth’s closed for the day and then announced that they would be back the next day. The four students—Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. (who later changed his name to Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond—were not trained in civil disobedience. They did not plan their actions in accordance with any wider strategy, although the civil rights movement was blossoming all around them. They did not consider how to react if they were met with violence or arrested. Jibreel Khazan recalled that Franklin McCain said, “We just wanted to sit down and eat like everyone else.” (1)

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Climate Change: Pope Francis’s Encyclical and the Dominion of Religion

by Vinay Lal

“Caring for Our Common Home”; artwork courtesy parochiesintmaarten.nl

The thinking person, as Walter Benjamin had occasion to remark, appears to experience crisis at every juncture of her or his life. How can this not be so if one were to experience the pain of someone else as one’s own? How can this not be so when, amidst growing stockpiles of food in many countries, millions continue to suffer from malnutrition, and the lengthening shadows of poverty give lie to the pious promises and pompous proclamations by the world’s leaders over the last several decades that humanity is determined to achieve victory in its quest to eradicate poverty? With war, violence, disease, and the myriad manifestations of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination which man’s ingenuity has wrought all around us, how might a person not be experiencing crisis? One foundation after another—whether it be named after Bill and Melinda Gates, the Clintons, Ford, Rockefeller, or other tycoons—has claimed to have helped “millions” of people around the world, but the crises appear to be multiplying.

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hrule
“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi