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DR. KING, GANDHI & AHIMSA
Celebrating Dr. King's Birthday
For those who lived through the 1960's, the era of the Civil Rights Movement, the movie Selma is very real. Dr. King was very much in the news for his great non-violent campaigns which brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. King was first exposed to the idea of ahimsa (first do no harm) when he attended the Crozier Theological Seminary. It was here that he began to understand Gandhi's great truth force principles.
In 1955 he was one of the leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. This was Dr. King's first campaign where he instituted the concept of non-violence.
In 1959 he visited India where he came to appreciate all the more his attraction to the concept of ahimsa. Swami Prabhupada of the Hare Krishna Movement explained ahimsa this way, "Non-violence is generally taken to mean not killing or destroying the body, but actually non-violence means not to put others into distress." It really has all an encompassing philosophy and meaning. In fact it is a very important virtue in Hinduism. It is through living this principle that one can achieve self-realization as a human being and union with God. Jesus taught this whole concept of ahimsa when he said, "You heard it said that you should not kill, but I say to you do not be angry with your brother. It is out of anger that murders happen." Gandhi admired Jesus as a teacher and for his philosophy and how he lived his life. The concept of ahimsa is a universal philosophy and not found in one tradition.
In the movie Selma you will notice there were a lot of women and children who were involved with carrying out the actions of bringing about change. A number of men felt they could not remain non-violent when people attacked the marchers. John Lewis was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR) a while back and he mentioned this situation. He was one of the men who could remain non-violent. He was the leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and eventually became a member of Congress. He was brutally beaten at Selma when people tried to cross the bridge. Eventually the graphic scenes of cops beating the marchers was big factor in Dr. King winning the support of the public and finally President Lyndon Johnson. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed because the public was outraged at the actions of the police. In 1964 Dr. King was instrumental in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for which he received the Noble Peace Prize.
Notice that Dr. King did protest injustice, but he always had a plan or piece of legislation he supported which would bring about constructive change. You can't just protest. You have to support a constructive alternative with a concrete plan.
I think in the present situation we need to support a piece of legislation which requires all the police departments to be overseen by a civilian board which has subpoena power and can enforce judgements against police who are bad actors. Another suggestion is to have each police officer carry personal liability insurance, so the taxpayers do not have to be continually paying for lawsuits against cops who become too violent. Often criminal cases fail, so the citizen sues in civil court for damages. Often the city and the citizen settle out of court, but the public pays the bill in increased taxes. It would deter officer because they have to pay higher insurance rates when something happens.
I personally think that protest by itself is not enough to enact change. You have to have a constructive plan for change to really motivate people in the long term. Both Dr. King and Gandhi were masters of coming up with solutions. They did not just protest. They were the change they wanted to see in the world. They lived their values and worked with people who they disagreed with to bring about change.
It was a very emotional moment for many of our generation when the group walked across the Edmund Petts Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Harry Belafonte, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and many others joined the group of 5,000 people of all religions and races who walked from Selma to Montgomery. Those of us who could not be physically present where there very much so in spirit. It was as though all of America was walking on the bridge. We couldn't tolerate injustice anymore.
We did not just protest, however; we actually changed society. Poll taxes and literacy tests disappeared into the dust bin of history. Members of Congress, mayors and governors of color were elected from that day forward.
Eventually Obama became our first black president. Many who lived through these times doubted we would one day elect a black president. It happened, but there is so much to do to make the world a better place. Women do not have equal pay for equal work. Some can't get educations because of their gender. White supremacists are terrorizing and using violence. Notice that few are saying we should stop all white supremacists from coming into the United States. It is way too easy for violent people to amass too many weapons.
On the other hand, some people are actually starting a campaign to stop hate. They are posting signs on their businesses which state that they welcome every one at their businesses. It is a wonderful idea to see this constructive personal solutions. In some communities city councils are welcoming the new refugees. We need more of this in the world. Be the change!
JAI SHRI DR. KING! JAI SHRI GANDHI! JAI SHRI AHIMSA!