Thursday, July 19, 2012

Satyagraha: Truth as a Force for Change

“Oppressed people can not remain oppressed forever.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

            A short hundred years ago much of the world was colonized. Great swaths of land and countless populations lived in servitude to foreign powers who utilized their positions of greater material wealth to obtain more riches for themselves and their homelands. The rapid toppling of empires over the last century speaks great volumes about the human will to self govern; the natural yearning for the ability to express one’s autonomy. Today there are relatively few remnants of the colonial system, and where there remain the people have been granted additional sovereignty and choice in the matter. 

Where Great Britain, France, and Portugal were once the most dominant forces in world affairs, they are now in a position which is much more even with other states. If these invincible empires could fall, just like the empires of the Romans and Greeks, then imagine what will happen to the empires of today? This is not a message that is meant to spread fear, calling for the fall of America or the rising of a new world order, but rather this is a message that change, even in the face of insufferable repression and against insurmountable odds, is possible

 Gandhi frequently spoke of three options one had when facing injustice; active non-violence, violent resistance, and inaction. Surprisingly he believed that violence was a greater response than inaction in the face of injustice. In the case of violence, the individuals making the action are at the very least making a statement against the offending status quo they oppose. The greatest response though is active nonviolence. Not only does nonviolence give activists numerous advantages such as political jiu-jitsu, the ability to use the force of the opposition as a tool to shape support for a movement, it also allows them to fight on the only battlefield in which they have an advantage: the moral battlefield. As one can see looking at the current state of Syria, or Libya before NATO began supporting the rebels, or the numerous other armed uprisings opposing the unjust possession of control that were quickly shut down by better armed and better funded oppressors, the fields of war are were coalitions of power wish for conflicts to occur. If a justice movement tries to bring their petitions to bear in the field of battle the injustice of their situation doesn’t matter, for questions of justice carry no weight in expressions of power.

During the Indian Independence movement Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha, or ‘truth force’ to refer to the tactics of resistance the movement was using and directly contradict the label of passive resistance. Today many people easily disregard the peace movement, and no matter how much logic or how many facts are presented to them some individuals can not hear the message of peace and justice, even if they are listening to the words of the movement. The answer is to speak in a universal language, to let them see truth and allow the force of that truth to transform ignorance and apathy into support and progress toward change. When Gandhi led the salt march he was not just saying that he disagreed with mandates on the sales and manufacturing of salt, he was making a statement about, “The inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life.”* The salt which came from the sea and the cloth that was produced domestically both were symbols of the immorality depicted in the actions of the British Empire. There was no response to the movement’s civil disobedience that could be taken by Britain without losing political capital or exacerbate and further displaying the grounds for the Indian people’s petition.

Over the last year there have been numerous movements which aim to reform the monoliths of oppression in our world such as the Move to Amend campaign in the United States and the Occupy movement around the world, and while there have certainly been successes on the part of these coalitions I must wonder what tactics will bring true lasting progress? It is inevitable that we can transform our world and end the oppression that is in all of our societies to varying degrees, our commitment to nonviolence more powerful than any insurgent militia and most lasting than any status quo backed by the continued apathy and inaction of the stagnant mass. What truths must we display on to be able to apply the force of Satyagraha toward reforming current structures of injustice?

Change is going to come; what are you doing to welcome it?

*Nehru, Jawaharlal. Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru. New York: John Day, 1942.

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree with this. I will try to be a more active participant in the "truth force" for peace.


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