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Fr. Jim Wright, Episcopalian priest and executive director of the Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, led the roundtable discussion tonight on Gandhi.  His presentation focused on Gandhi’s time in South Africa and how his experience of discrimination there influenced his embrace of satyagraha, or “soul/truth force,” as a means of nonviolent resistance.

After his presentation, we discussed the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement here in the U.S.  Al and Rick spoke from their own experience during that time, one noting the difficulty of “turning the other cheek” when actually facing continuing oppression.  Fr. Wright pointed out that Gandhi was profoundly influenced by spirituality – both Eastern and Western (he was educated in England).  Tolstoy’s radical Christianity, Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” and Ruskin’s ideas on the value of work were major contributors to his thought, as was his native Hinduism.   

Gandhi is is a major figure of the 20th century, a period ironically considered to be one of the most violent.  His ideals can seem … pretty idealistic in light of our own country’s insistence and reliance on violence both at home and in its dealings with other nations.  Kendera brought up a book she is reading by Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence – A Third Way, which challenged the despair some of us might feel at the limited nature of Gandhi’s influence.  Wink reminds us of a number of cases of successful non-violent change that have happened around the world since Gandhi’s experiment in India and King’s influential part in the civil rights movement, and why we tend to forget them.  

In Poland, Solidarity irreversibly mobilized popular sentiment against the puppet Communist regime. An entire clandestine culture, literature, and spirituality came to birth there outside the authority of official society. This under-cuts the oft-repeated claim that what Mohandas Gandhi did in India or Martin Luther King Jr. did in the American South would never work under a brutal, Soviet sponsored government . . . Nonviolent general strikes have overthrown at least seven Latin American dictators: Carlos Ibanez del Campo of Chile (1931), Gerardo Machado y Morales of Cuba (1933), Jorge Ubico of Guatemala (1944), Elie Lescot of Haiti (1948), Arnulfo Arias of Panama (1951), Paul Magliore of Haiti (1955), and Gustavo Rojas Pinilla of Colombia (1957). In 1989-90 alone, fourteen nations underwent nonviolent revolutions, all of them successful except China, and all of them nonviolent except Romania. These revolutions involved 1.7 billion people. If we total all the nonviolent movements of the twentieth century, the figure comes to 3.4 billion people, and again, most were successful. And yet there are people who still insist that nonviolence doesn’t work! Gene Sharp has itemized 98 different types of nonviolent actions that are a part of the historical record, yet our history books seldom mention any of them, so preoccupied are they with power politics and war…  

It was an interesting conversation, too short as usual, but a good opportunity for our community and guests to think more clearly together about the world we live in and our part in it. We have at the House several books on Gandhi, some introductory booklets from Pax Christi, as well as handouts from Fr. Wright’s talk.  Stop by if you’re interested.