Constructive Programme

The King of Kindness: Vinoba Bhave and His Nonviolent Revolution

by Mark Shepard

Vinoba Bhave; photographer unknown; courtesy of

Once India gained its independence, that nation’s leaders did not take long to abandon Mahatma Gandhi’s principles. Nonviolence gave way to the use of India’s armed forces. Perhaps even worse, the new leaders discarded Gandhi’s vision of a decentralized society, a society based on autonomous, self-reliant villages. These leaders spurred a rush toward a strong central government and a Western-style industrial economy. But not all abandoned Gandhi’s vision. Many of his “constructive workers”, development experts and community organizers working in a host of agencies set up by Gandhi himself, resolved to continue his mission of transforming Indian society. And leading them was a disciple of Gandhi previously little known to the Indian public, yet eventually regarded as Gandhi’s “spiritual successor”, Vinoba Bhave, a saintly, reserved, austere man most called simply Vinoba. How did he assume this status?

In 1916, at the age of 20, Vinoba was in the holy city of Benares trying to come to a decision about his life. Should he go to the Himalayas and become a religious hermit? Or should he go to West Bengal and join the guerillas fighting the British? Then Vinoba came across a newspaper account of a speech by Gandhi. He was thrilled, and soon after joined Gandhi in his ashram. Gandhi’s ashrams were not only religious communities, but also centers of political and social action. As Vinoba later said, he found in Gandhi the peace of the Himalayas united with the revolutionary fervor of Bengal.

Read the rest of this article »

Bhaskar Save: the Gandhi of Natural Farming

by Bharat Mansata

Bhaskar Save on 92nd birthday; photograph by the author

Bhaskar Save, acclaimed “the Gandhi of Natural Farming”, turned 92 on 27 January 2014, having inspired and mentored three generations of organic farmers. Masanobu Fukuoka, the legendary Japanese natural farmer, visited Save’s farm in 1996, and described it as “the best in the world”, ahead of his own farm. In 2010, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) honoured Save with the “One World Award for Lifetime Achievement”.

Indeed, Save’s farm is a veritable food forest; a net supplier of water, energy and fertility to the local eco-system, instead of a net consumer. His way of farming and his teachings are rooted in a deep understanding of the symbiotic relationships in nature, which he is ever happy to explain in simple, down-to-earth idioms to anyone interested. Save’s 14 acre orchard-farm Kalpavruksha is located on the Coastal Highway near village Dehri, District Valsad, in southernmost coastal Gujarat, a few km north of the Maharashtra-Gujarat border. The nearest railway station is Umergam on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.

Read the rest of this article »

Island of Peace: Lanza del Vasto and the Community of the Ark

by Mark Shepard

Lanza del Vasto 1979; photo by and courtesy of Mark Shepard

We are accused of going against the times. We are doing that deliberately and with all our strength.
— Lanza del Vasto

The machine enslaves, the hand sets free.
— Lanza del Vasto

Tucked away in the windswept mountains of Languedoc in southern France is a small island of peace known as the Community of the Ark. Founded and formed by Lanza del Vasto—often called Mahatma Gandhi’s “first disciple in the West”—the Ark is a model of a nonviolent social order, an alternative to the overt and hidden violence of our times.

Joseph Jean Lanza del Vasto (1901-1981) was an Italian aristocrat deeply concerned about this violence. In 1936, Lanza traveled to India to meet Gandhi, the one person he thought might know how violence could be uprooted. Gandhi gave Lanza a new name: Shantidas, “Servant of Peace.” And Lanza returned to Europe with hopes of starting a “Gandhian Order in the West”.

Read the rest of this article »

Workers on the Land: The Grape Strikers in Delano

by Jeff Rudick

Editor’s Preface: In 1970, the year this article was written, the Catholic Worker Farm was in Tivoli, New York, not far from Bard College, a highly regarded liberal arts institution, as it still is. Indeed Bard was close enough for students to walk to the farm, and not only did many do this regularly, but some came to live at the Worker summers and holidays. The poet and theater director Jeffrey Rudick was one such student, and a valuable addition to the community. He was  “looking for a project” and Dorothy encouraged him to “get yourself to Delano and write about it for the paper”, as he recalls her saying. The Worker could be said to have “raised the social consciousnesses” of many generations of students, not just those from Bard. JG

Poster c. 1970, artist unknown; courtesy of University of Michigan

I joined the strikers in Delano, now well into their fifth year of a frustrating battle, for little more than five weeks, and hardly claim to know in a real way what their hardship was. But my impressions from the experience were and are strong and lasting, and I would like to share some of them.

I bussed up from Bakersfield to Delano through the flat commercial roads interspersed with long rows of vines. Delano appeared an ugly flat monotonous town devoid of woodland, crammed with the commercial clutter that plagues the landscape of America. I was later to learn that the railroad, which slices through the town, the planted orange trees and palms, and the long fields of vines on the outskirts were the only pleasing diversions for the eye.

As I sat on the bench in front of the small Greyhound station, I felt increasingly defensive. Many drivers in the traffic I was watching turned their heads and eyed me suspiciously as they passed by. I became conscious of my long hair as in so many small towns; I wondered if they knew I had come to join the strikers. I stepped into the nearest phone booth and leafed through the book for the number of the strikers’ headquarters. It was nearly dark and the last rays of the setting sun were fading, a dark shadow of rusted red becoming more prominent, until, as I reached the U’s there was a large red blotch as of crusted blood over the United Farm Workers’ listing.

Read the rest of this article »

Cesar Chavez: Farmworkers Step Up Boycott

by Dorothy Day

Chavez, Coretta King & Dorothy; February 1973; photographer unknown

EDITOR’S PREFACE: Dorothy Day was a prolific writer and so a note of explanation about our choice of articles seems in order. Not only did Dorothy write her monthly column “On Pilgrimage” for The Catholic Worker, but she was an inveterate diarist and letter writer, contributor of articles to other publications, novelist and author of autobiographical writings, speeches, et al. By posting these three essays on Cesar Chavez, and other articles that will follow, we hope to remind readers of the central role Dorothy and The Worker played in the contemporary nonviolent movement. Often tagged anarcho-pacifist, The Catholic Worker newspaper was also at the center of the Gandhian nonviolence movement, as we have previously demonstrated in postings about Danilo Dolci and nonviolence in Sicily. In this essay Dorothy mentions that she was asked to share a pulpit with Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez, two of the leading members of the US nonviolent movement.  This was neither deferential nor accidental. JG

It was a thrilling sight last month [February, 1973] to stand on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and to see the parade of the United Farm Workers coming up the steps, all those beautiful, dark, sturdy men, women, and children, dressed in those clothes in which they work in the fields, flags flying with the Mexican Indian eagle black against the red of their banners, led by Cesar Chavez and Mrs. Martin Luther King. I had been invited too, but I could not take that long trek from the Riverside Drive Council of Churches headquarters, thru the Columbia University campus, and down to 110th Street where the Cathedral stands, magnificent in its stately grounds, on a height looking East over the City of New York.

I had enjoyed every minute of the evening before, and a fiesta held in the hall of the great old Paulist Church, surely one of the biggest in the city, where Marcos Munos (who heads the N.Y. office of the United Farm Workers) had prepared a party to greet the busload and caravan of ten cars which had made its zig-zag way across country from California. It was a pilgrimage to encourage the workers in various cities to continue the boycott of iceberg lettuce.

Read the rest of this article »

The Organizer Cesar Chavez

by Dorothy Day

Cesar Chavez, c. 1965; photographer unknown

“Workers of the World, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!” This is one of those stirring slogans of the Marxists especially appealing to youth, no matter what kind of family they come from, upper, middle, or lower middle class. If it does not attract them to Marxism, it at least gives them a sense of community and relatedness to other sufferers and combats the sense of futility and frustration, which encompasses so many.

Cesar Chavez is the leader of the Delano California farm-workers who are on strike in an area which stretches for 400 miles and includes thousands of acres of grapes, tomatoes, apricots, cotton — all kinds of crops. This strike, which has been going on since last September, appeals to all the poor of the United States. Chavez uses the word commitment, a word much in style now. But he combines it with the idea of necessity, the irrevocable. “We are committed,” he says. “When you lose your car, then lose your home, you do not become less committed, but more. None of us has anything more to lose.”

The agricultural workers of this country have long been the most abandoned and forgotten. They have been neglected in all Social Security legislation. From the first issue of The Catholic Worker, down through the years, we have written about the Negroes working on the levees, about the dispossessed sharecroppers of Arkansas and Oklahoma, the Mexicans in the onion fields of Ohio and Michigan, in sugar beets in the middle Northwest, about those who work in the potato farms in Maine, Long Island and New Jersey, in the turpentine woods of the South, about the citrus pickers of Florida, the Delta Negroes now being dispossessed from the cotton fields, and now the present strikers in California. The Catholic Worker has dealt with these stories and I have personally visited these fields of struggle.

Read the rest of this article »

Danilo Dolci’s Sicily

by Dorothy Day

Dorothy & Dolci, 1968; photographer unknown; courtesy Swarthmore College Peace Center.

While I was in Rome I assisted at a dialogue Mass at the Jesuit headquarters on the Via Santo Spiritu in Rome just down the street from the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, where one can still see the turnstile into which destitute mothers used to place their newborn infants to be succored by the nuns. After the kiss of peace and communion we went out into the cobbled streets to find a place to have dinner – Eileen Egan, Dorothy Coddington, Gary McEoin, Tom Cornell, Fabrizio Fabbrini and I. The only trouble with such an interesting group was that there were too many things to talk about, too many avenues to be explored.

Fabbrini, a professor at the university in Rome, had lost his position and had been imprisoned for six months in a damp cold cell beneath the level of the street. He was in the same cell with nine others, not conscientious objectors but sentenced on various charges. There was neither work nor exercise nor recreation for him, and one wonders how he stood it.

Gary could have told me something about Vatican finances, since he has written a book on the subject, but Dorothy Coddington began talking about the work of Danilo Dolci, and her talk was so interesting that I resolved to visit Sicily before proceeding to London. Eileen was going on to Isreal and had already been to Trieste.

Read the rest of this article »

Rev. Phil Lawson: Building the Beloved Community

by Terry Messman

Rev. Phil Lawson rallying support for gays and lesbians; photograph by Mike DuBose.

Rev. Lawson has worked his entire life to ensure that there will be room enough in the beloved community so no one will be left outside to suffer and die in poverty on the streets, no one will be locked out by border walls, and no one will be denied entrance because of racial intolerance or homophobia. At some point in the course of his lifelong work to build a truly inclusive community, Rev. Phil Lawson became a pastor for all the people. His ministry now extends far beyond the walls of the Methodist churches where he ministered to his congregations in Richmond, El Cerrito and Vallejo. The walls of his church have expanded to include the homeless and hungry people cast out of American society, the refugees from war-torn lands in Central America, the same-sex couples he joined in marriage, the low-paid workers in Richmond struggling for living wages, the peace and justice activists who look to this soft-spoken man for leadership, and the Occupy activists seeking to build a nationwide movement for justice.

The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.

As Lawson’s ministry has expanded through all these years of pastoral service and nonviolent movement building, it has become clear that there is only one edifice large enough to provide sanctuary for all the people he has included in his ministry — the “beloved community.” At a forum on nonviolent resistance held at the height of the Occupy movement in Oakland on Dec. 15, 2011, Rev. Lawson declared: “The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.”

Read the rest of this article »

Standing with the Poor: The Street Spirit Interview with Vincent Harding

by Terry Messman

Martin was attuned to the Hebrew prophets, and that was their constant message: Don’t talk about loving God or being religious unless you stand with the outcasts and the weak. Jesus said the same thing. There’s no way to understand Martin’s urgency about standing with the poor without taking into consideration his deepest religious grounding.” Vincent Harding

Vincent Harding, c. 2013; photographer unknown.

Street Spirit: In your book, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero, you wrote that the public seems most aware of the first part of Dr. King’s journey that culminated in his “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in August 1963. Yet, in the final year of his life, King attempted to build a far more militant movement that could challenge racism, the war in Vietnam, poverty, unemployment and slum housing. What are your reflections on Martin Luther King in the last year of his life?

Vincent Harding: Well, Terry, I think that he was, as much as anything else, a man in search. He was not simply repeating himself, but trying to develop himself. It was clear that he was responding to the world that he was living in, and the world that was coming into being all around him. I think that that element of being engaged with the world as it was developing is one of the most important things that I would see.

He was trying to speak to the developing Black consciousness that was rising up in the Black community. He was trying to speak to the younger people who probably, even more than they knew it, were responding themselves to the society’s tendency to see them simply as waste material. He was trying to understand ways in which he could help those young people to see a sense of purpose for their lives, beyond the explosive kinds of actions that they were engaged in, in the urban areas of this country.

And then, of course, he was trying to respond to his country’s imperialism and militarism. And that was something that he simply could not let pass him by. It was absolutely necessary to speak to what that militarism was doing to the country — especially as expressed in Vietnam.

Because he was a deep lover of his country, he felt that there would be no way in which he could be a person of integrity, and be silent about the damage that he saw us, as a nation, inflicting on ourselves and on other people. And, of course, in the midst of this period, he also tried to figure out how the wealthiest country in the world could respond to the growing damage that it was doing to its poor people. That whole question of poverty, and the response to poverty and the response to the poor, is another element, I would say, of his overwhelming concern.

I’d like to mention one other thing, though. And that is that if we’re talking about that last year, he is really constantly trying to understand what would nonviolent revolution be like in America. And, at least as important, how would he call the angry, explosive, young people into that kind of task — for the good of the country, for the good of themselves, for the good of the world.

This whole matter of the young people — their explosive energy somehow being called into participation in a nonviolent revolutionary change and struggle — that was something that was very much on his mind and heart, and that needs to be seen as crucial to those last years.

Read the rest of this article »

Nonviolent Social Movements: The Street Spirit Interview with Stephen Zunes

by Terry Messman

Polish mural commemorating 30 years of the Solidarity Movement; Father Jerzy Popieluszko foreground; artist unknown.

In Bolivia in 1979, when there was a coup by a general named Natusch Busch, the whole country went on strike and 600,000 people massed in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, which was bigger than the total population of the city at the time. Trade union leaders and others walked into the president’s house, walked into his office, and they asked him, “What’s your program?” He looked at them, and then he looked at the 600,000 people out in the streets, and he said, ‘Yours!’” Stephen Zunes

Street Spirit: In your book, Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective, you and your co-authors described how nonviolent movements all over the world have undermined powerful systems of oppression through the mass withdrawal of cooperation. How can such a seemingly passive act as non-cooperation overcome a military dictatorship?

Stephen Zunes: Well, basically, for the state to operate, it needs people to carry out its orders — ranging from the security forces, to government bureaucrats, to sympathetic people in the media, to academics, and to many other people that may, in normal times, do the duty of the state, but can be convinced to be on the side of the people.

This is striking. I was in Bolivia a few years ago where they have had a long history of nonviolent resistance against right-wing dictatorships and neo-liberalism and all sorts of injustices. And it was amazing when I talked to everyone from illiterate peasants, to intellectuals, to people in the government, to urban workers — they’ll all tell you that the most powerful person in Bolivia is not the president or any elected officials, but the head of the trade union federation. Why? Because the unions can shut down the entire country.

So if there’s a general strike or other forms of mass resistance, it doesn’t matter if the government occupies various government offices, and has a monopoly of weapons, or, in some cases, a monopoly of media. If people refuse to obey their orders, then they don’t have any power.

Read the rest of this article »

“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