“Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi . . . You are no followers but fellow students, fellow pilgrims, fellow seekers, fellow workers.”
M. K. Gandhi


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For the Love of All: Ahimsa in Nonviolence and Radical Ecology

by Saskia van Goelst Meijer

St. Francis Preaching to the Birds; fresco by Giotto, courtesy wikiart.org

There is a difference here between proactive non-harming
and “doing nothing.”
 — Irina Aristarkhova (2012)

Our world is experiencing an ever-growing ecological crisis, which makes it necessary for humanity to reshape the way it is dealing with the planet. Grave challenges for the future of humanity and the earth as a whole have emerged as a result of ecological and economic conduct over the past few centuries. According to some, the environmental crisis is intertwined with other crises (financial, social, political), which has led both scholars and activists to call for a fundamental change in the global paradigm. Where socio-political change is concerned, part of this paradigm change has been attempted through nonviolence. Pioneered as a method in the early 20th century by Mohandas Gandhi for addressing injustice, it has since been taken up by many more individuals and organisations around the world. Nonviolence practices and notions can also be found in certain streams of ecology. One central element in the method of nonviolence is ahimsa, ‘the absence of the intention to do harm.’ In this article I will explore both ahimsa and radical ecology, to both explain the role and significance of ahimsa in nonviolence and to see if and how the two notions can clarify and supplement each other.

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By Giving Our Lives, We Find Life: The John Dear Interview with Cesar Chavez

by John Dear

Cesar Chavez poster art courtesy me.me/t/cesar-chavez?s=new

Editor’s Preface: John Dear conducted this interview in August of 1992, upon the occasion of the annual Pax Christi conference in New York, and just a few months before Chavez’s untimely death. Please see the note at the end for further information about Chavez, links, and acknowledgments. JG

Cesar Chavez lived his life in service of others. A servant of the poor, a servant of justice, a servant of nonviolence, he founded and led the United Farm Workers Union in their struggle for justice. A steadfast practitioner of nonviolence, he fasted, prayed, marched, picketed and boycotted his way to justice.

In April 1993, he traveled to Arizona to stand trial in a lawsuit against a grape-growing company. He also fasted privately for six days. At the end of the fast, on the evening of April 22, 1993, he retired to his room. He died quietly with a book in his hands. He was 66 years old.

Like tens of thousands of others, I journeyed to Delano for his wake and funeral at Forty Acres, the former UFW headquarters in the heart of California’s Central Valley. Fifteen thousand farmworkers viewed his body in an open pine wood coffin, made by his brother. They gathered for the evening vigil and rosary service under a huge tent with a large banner picturing Cesar. The prayers, scripture readings, testimonies and songs continued on through the night until the start of the march the next morning.

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Gandhi and the Virtue of Forgiveness

by Alan Hunter and Andrew Rigby

“Forgiveness” art by Leigh Wells; courtesy greatergood.berkeley.edu

Abstract: Satyagraha and ahimsa are widely acknowledged as central to Gandhi’s life-work.  Our argument in this paper is that forgiveness (ksama in Sanskrit) was another of Gandhi’s core values. The first section of the paper introduces ways in which forgiveness has been understood as a concept and practice within Western traditions. We demonstrate that forgiveness lies close to the heart of Christianity, and show that it is also an issue relevant to contemporary concerns: since the 1990s forgiveness has featured in numerous secular studies, exhibitions, websites, and other media. The second section identifies how the key precepts that informed Gandhi’s vision of the transformatory significance of forgiveness were derived from and grounded in the spiritual and philosophical traditions of South Asia, Hinduism and especially Jainism. Our final section more specifically explores the implications of forgiveness in Gandhi’s thought and practice. Forgiveness is an important component of Gandhi’s dual concerns: the ‘spiritualisation of politics’, and also the ‘politicisation of spirituality’.

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Blessed are the Peacemakers and Firemen

by William J. Jackson

Edward Hicks, “The Peaceable Kingdom: The Leopard and the Kid”, courtesy wikimedia.org

When the 9/11 terrorist attack happened, I recalled an observation which Martin Luther King, Jr. had made when visiting singer-actor-activist Harry Belafonte in 1968:  “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.” (italics added)

When Belafonte asked Dr. King to explain further, he said “I’m afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had. And I’m afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation.”

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What is Satyagraha?

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

“Soul Force”; courtesy kurdistancommentary.wordpress.com

Editor’s Preface: We have periodically revisited Gandhi’s own definitions of his major concepts. Through compilations of various of his statements, and by using quotes from his work at the top of our Home page, and found under Quotes & Sources, we hope to provide focal points for discussion, if not statements of doctrine. Please also see the note at the end for acknowledgments. JG

My goal is friendship with the world and I can combine the greatest love with the greatest opposition to wrong. (Young India, 10 March 1920; p. 5)

Non-violence is not a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness. On the contrary, the Non-violence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation, whose very nature is to increase wickedness. I contemplate a mental and therefore a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but would uplift him. (Young India, 8 October 1925; p. 346)

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Nonviolence after Gandhi: The Death of Martin Luther King Jr.

by Bayard Rustin

Rustin poster courtesy American Friends Service Committee; afsc.org

Editor’s Preface: Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was one of the leading proponents of nonviolence in the U. S. civil rights era. He wrote this article just weeks after the assassination of Dr. King on 4 April 1968. For acknowledgments and further information about Rustin please consult the editor’s note at the end. JG

The murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has thrust a lance into the soul of America. The pain is most shattering to the Negro people. We have lost a valiant son, a symbol of hope and an eloquent spirit that inspired masses of people. Such a man does not appear often in the history of social struggle. When his presence signifies that greatness can inhabit a black skin, those who must deny this possibility stop at nothing to remove it. Dr. King now joins a long list of victims of desperate hate in the service of insupportable lies, myths, and stereotypes.

For me, the death of Dr. King brings deep personal grief. I had known and worked with him since the early days of the Montgomery bus protest in 1955, through the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Prayer Pilgrimage in 1957, the youth marches for integrated schools in 1958 and 1959 and the massive March on Washington in 1963.

Though his senior by 20 years, I came to admire the depth of his faith in nonviolence, in the ultimate vindication of the democratic process and in the redeeming efficacy of social commitment and action. And underlying this faith was a quiet courage grounded in the belief that the triumph of justice, however long delayed, was inevitable. Like so many others, I watched his spirit take hold in the country, arousing long-slumbering consciences and giving shape to a new social movement. With that movement came new hopes, aspirations, and expectations. The stakes grew higher. At such a time, so great a loss can barely be sustained by the Negro people. But the tragedy and shame of April fourth darkens the entire nation as it teeters on the brink of crisis. And let no one mistake the signs: our country is in deadly serious trouble. This needs to be said because one of the ironies of life in an advanced industrialized society is that many people can go about their daily business without being directly affected by the ominous rumblings at the bottom of the system.

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Gandhi’s Constructive Programme: The Other Side of Civil Resistance

by Andrew Rigby

Dustjacket art courtesy mkgandhi.org

Gandhi was a special figure in the history of movements for social transformation, and as such has been the subject of countless studies — most recently by activist-scholars and students of civil resistance seeking to identify the key lessons that can be applied to more contemporary nonviolent movements for peace and justice. As such they have tended to focus on the large-scale satyagraha campaigns initiated by Gandhi in the Indian freedom struggle, such as the Salt March of 1930 that inaugurated a mass civil disobedience campaign and the 1942 ‘Quit India’ campaign. Less attention has been paid to exploring the significance and contemporary relevance of the other major dimension of Gandhi’s approach to transformation – constructive action to lay the foundations of new ways of living (what has been called by more recent generations of activists as pre-figurative politics).

Gandhi believed there should be two integral dimensions of any campaign to transform systems of oppression and injustice. There was the front-stage satyagraha, or active nonviolent resistance, but there was also the constructive work to create alternatives to the systems and practices that were in need of change. Indeed, for Gandhi the constructive work was far more important than the active ‘political satyagraha’ in the struggle for emancipation and independence (Swaraj). As he advised his co-workers in 1944, through the constructive programme ‘you can make the villages feel self-reliant, self-sufficient and free so that they can stand up for their own rights. If you make a real success of the constructive programme, you will win Swaraj for India without civil disobedience.’ (1)

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Nonviolence and Media Studies

by Vamsee Juluri

“Peace Dove with Book” courtesy Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Wayne State University; www.clas.wayne.edu/CPCS/

Abstract: This article proposes a meeting of media studies and the philosophy of nonviolence in order to better critique the tendency, in popular media discourses about war and international conflict, to naturalize violence as an eternal and essential human trait. Nonviolence exposes certain foundational myths about violence in the media; namely, the myths that violence is cultural (as implied in the “clash of civilizations” thesis), historical, or natural. However, this exposure is possible only if nonviolence is retrieved from its present marginalization as a mere technique for political activism or personal behavior and understood more accurately as a coherent, universal, practical worldview that can inform a critical engagement with media discourses of violence. Using Gandhi’s writings on nonviolence, this essay aims to initiate just such an understanding, particularly in connection with existing critical approaches to media violence, such as cultivation research and cultural studies, and concludes by proposing a set of concrete questions for media research based on nonviolence.

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Gandhi in Olive Country: Palestinians Revel in the Nonviolent Struggle

by Aimee Ginsburg

Palestinian children’s art courtesy patheos.com

Editor’s Preface: We have posted a series of articles on the Palestinian nonviolent movement, and especially about the struggle in the village of Bil’in. These can be accessed via our Islamic Nonviolence category in the right sidebar. Please also see the editor’s note at the end for information about the author, links, and acknowledgments. JG

I’m sitting with Robert Hirschfield at the corner ice cream shop, tall windows facing the street, steaming mint tea in our glass mugs. Outside, a large group of angry young Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) supporters are waving their fists and their kaffiyas (headdresses), shouting slogans against the Hamas massacre of fourteen PLO members in Gaza.

We are in Ramallah [March 2008], the interim capital of Palestine, two American Jewish writers, and I am thinking we are crazy. Hirschfield, 68, is comfortable. He has been traveling through Palestine for a month now, researching his book on Palestinian nonviolence. He likes it here. “There is an aliveness, an open and present friendliness, a warmth,” he says. Outside, the shouting gets louder. Sorry to say, I think of the Israeli journalist, Daniel Pearl, who was murdered in Pakistan; while Hirschfield thinks of Mahatma Gandhi.

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The Politics of Nonviolence

by John Dear

Book cover art courtesy Pace e Bene Press; paceebene.org

Editor’s Preface: This essay continues our series of responses to the Trump Era. Please see that category in the right sidebar. Please also consult the note at the end for further information and acknowledgments. JG

What a summer (2016)! Like everyone else, I’m trying to make some sense of it, and figure out a thoughtful response. We’ve suffered through the mainstream media’s non-stop broadcast of the dirty politics of hatred, scapegoating, and warmongering, particularly by Mr. Trump. We’ve undergone shootings by white police officers of unarmed African Americans, and even shootings of police, as well as massacres in Orlando and Nice, not to mention the daily U.S. massacres in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. We’ve endured the long hot days of catastrophic climate change with its wind and rain and heat and fire breathing down our necks. We seem to hit a new rock bottom of despair every week, only to sink to new lows the following week.

For many, there’s not much hope to be had. Sure, you can vote, but don’t expect anything more than the same ol’ same ol’ politics of violence, which means the politics of perpetual war, the politics of unparalleled corporate greed, the politics of death as a social methodology for the world. Democracy is fading. Fascism is growing. Behold, violence for the sheer sake of violence, the death of anonymous innocents around the globe, and millions of us who simply do not care.

“The worst time of my life,” my cousin Mary Anne said on the phone the other day. That was the sentiment of my friend and teacher, Father Daniel Berrigan, just before his death on April 30, 2016. The country and the world seem to sink beyond our worst imaginings. What should we do? We can give in, give up, back down, lie down and surrender; or we can vote, as some do every four years, for the lesser of two evils (and so make our peace with evil); and/or we can dig in for the long haul, and mobilize against the politics of violence on behalf of a new politics of nonviolence.

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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