Lately, I’ve been studying Gandhi again, to prepare to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth on October 2, 2019. He’s certainly the greatest person of the past few hundred years, yet why do we so thoroughly reject his teachings of active nonviolence? We keep plunging into greater chaos, blindness, injustice, violence and destruction. But Gandhi remains a towering example of creative nonviolence and the power of grassroots movements to transform our world.
“I have nothing new to teach the world,” Gandhi once said. “Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could. In doing so, I have sometimes erred and learned by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many experiments in the practice of truth and nonviolence.”
It was in that same spirit of bold Gandhian experimentation with truth and nonviolence that my friends and I at Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service launched Campaign Nonviolence in 2014, as a national week of action. We called upon people across the country to take to the streets and hold public events and actions for one week, around International Peace Day, Sept. 21. With one catch: they were not to be single issue events. They were to be for the coming of a whole new culture of peace and nonviolence.
The idea was that people would connect the dots, and speak out against war, AND racism, AND poverty, AND nuclear weapons, AND environmental destruction, AND the whole darn culture of violence.
But not only that. They were also to call for a new culture of peace and nonviolence, a new nation without war, poverty, racism, nuclear weapons or environmental destruction, a new culture where everyone strived to be as nonviolent as Gandhi and King.
Lo and behold! 240 events/actions/and vigils were held that first year. We were thrilled.
Six years later, this week, we have over 3,300 registered nonviolent actions/events/marches/and vigils across the United States and some 20 other countries — against war, poverty, racism, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, and for a new culture of peace and nonviolence. We are partnering too with this week’s Global Climate Strike, so it’s probably a much bigger grassroots phenomenon which cannot be measured.
That’s a relief, because the media are not interested in measuring it, much less discussing it. No matter, people everywhere are taking to the streets this week and speaking out. All over we are taking public action for justice, disarmament and creation. The grassroots movement is moving. And that is heartening. Eventually, the media — and the leaders — will catch up.
A few years ago, I visited my friend the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, South Africa, and started to brag about Campaign Nonviolence. “You wouldn’t believe what we are doing,” I said proudly. “We’re bringing thousands of people together across the U.S. in every state for one week to speak out against every issue of violence — from war, to poverty, to racism, to nuclear weapons, to environmental destruction, and everything in between — and also calling for a new culture of peace and nonviolence. What do you think of that?” I asked.
“Well, it’s about time!” he said angrily. “The rest of us around the world have been waiting for decades for you Americans to start something like that.”
He was none too impressed and quite annoyed that it had taken so long for such a grassroots effort to start. I was stung and sobered — and greatly helped by his response. Of course, he was right: it’s about time!
It’s about time for all of us to step to the plate the way Gandhi and Tutu and so many other heroes and peace leaders have before us.
Thank God, this week, many are. In Wilmington, Delaware, Peace Week has organized over 100 events (see: www.peaceweekdelaware.org). Little Rock, Arkansas will hold some 50 events (www.arkansaspeaceweek.com). Memphis has declared itself a “nonviolent city” and will host a series of events (www.cnvmemphis.org). “Nonviolent Twin Cities” will host over 40 events in St. Paul/Minneapolis (www.twincitiesnonviolent.org). The culmination will be a march on Saturday with thousands of people. Dr. King’s friend, Rev. James Lawson and I will address the crowd, and call for permanent nonviolent resistance to our culture of violence, and a brand new, global grassroots people power movement of nonviolence.
To see the entire list of thousands of events, go to actionlist.campaignnonviolence.org.
There’s nothing we can do, there’s nothing anyone can do. That is exactly what the culture of violence and war wants us to believe. And we too easily give in to that hopelessness. But if we give into that do-nothing despair, then we are serving the culture of violence and war.
On the contrary, Gandhi, Tutu, and so many others show us that the power of organized nonviolence in grassroots movements can make a difference and transform even the worst situation into a new culture of peace. Each one of us is needed to take a stand, take a step, speak out and join the movement. Each one of us can be Rosa Parks or Greta Thunberg.
“I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith,” Gandhi once said. Well, we can’t all be Gandhi, but we can all do what we can.
Dare we be as bold, as audacious, as outrageous as Gandhi, in the pursuit of a cultural transformation toward nonviolence? Why not? What have we got to lose?
I think this is the best use of our lives in a bad time. We might as well give ourselves to the highest cause, the most noble cause — the disarmament of the world, the transformation of systemic injustice and permanent warfare into a new culture of nonviolence.
In fact, we have to go well beyond Gandhi, and build up a global, connect-the-dots, grassroots, people power, bottom up movement of nonviolence the likes of which the world has never seen before. That’s where we are headed.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, International Peace Day, I’ll urge the crowd in St. Paul/Minneapolis to rise to the occasion, to become the people we were meant to be, Gandhi-like peacemakers of audacious, astonishing, visionary nonviolence.
You won’t hear about the Campaign Nonviolence grassroots movement in the mainstream media, but it’s out there — mobilizing, growing, building, bubbling up.
If we all pitch in and do our part in the global grassroots movements of nonviolence that are moving around the world, one day, they will bubble over into an epidemic of transformative nonviolence on behalf of humanity and creation. Even if we don’t live to see that new day, it’s a vision worth pursuing. Perhaps the only vision worth pursuing.
Campaign Nonviolence, a project of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, is working for a new culture of nonviolence by connecting the issues to end war, poverty, racism and environmental destruction. We organize The Nonviolent Cities Project and the annual Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions.
Waging Nonviolence partners with other organizations and publishes their work.