Quotes about Nonviolence
The essence of the practice of nonviolence is that it seeks to liquidate antagonisms but not the antagonists themselves (‘hate the sin but not the sinner’). This may be based on religious injunction or on a strong sense of the unity of all life: either way, this means that it is ethically wrong and existentially or spiritually self-defeating to treat another with less dignity than is warranted by a shared humanity or divine inheritance. Thomas Weber and Robert J. Burrowes
The dramatic growth in democratic governance in recent decades from Latin America to Eastern Europe as well as large parts of Africa and Asia rarely came from outside forces or top-down initiatives, but primarily from democratic civil society organizations engaging in strategic nonviolent action. There appears to be a growing recognition that endemic corruption needs to be addressed the same way.
A number of the democratic experiments which have emerged in recent years from the global south and the former Soviet Bloc will remain fragile if the legitimacy of elected governments is questioned as a result of their corrupt behavior. The global anti-corruption movement is beginning to recognize that it may be up to the very forces which made free elections in these countries possible to also ensure that these new democracies live up to their promise and, if not, to be prepared to take to the streets once again.
I believe that Gandhi’s Satyagraha is the most important political discovery of the twentieth century. It happened on September 11, 1906, in the Empire Theater in Durban, South Africa. At that time the Indian community in South Africa had been suffering very serious oppression, not unlike apartheid. The Indians were not allowed to vote. They couldn’t own land in certain places, and in 1906 a law was passed that greatly heightened their oppression. The Indian community called it the Black Act. It consisted of forcing everybody to be registered, fingerprinted on pain of imprisonment or expulsion.
Gandhi saw the act as an attempt to destroy this community. He said, “It meant absolute ruin for the Indians in South Africa.” And he said, “It’s better to die than to submit to such a law.” So Satyagraha was born to defend the right of a people to exist, in the face of what today we would call ethnic cleansing or even genocide.
Another interesting feature of the event was that it occurred on the spur of the moment at the Empire Theater in Durban. Gandhi later wrote, “The foundations of the first civil resistance under the then well-known name of passive resistance were laid by accident. I had gone to a meeting with no preconceived resolution. It was born at the meeting.”
At the meeting a gentleman called Seth Haji Habib demanded that the audience take an oath, before God, not to observe the Black Act. Gandhi was startled because he saw a world of difference between a mere vote and an actual oath by individuals, which he believed could only be taken by those people themselves and which was binding on them no matter what anyone else did. A new force, a new power, was being brought to bear in politics, a new commitment, a new will really unto death, yet without violence.
It is an unshakable faith with me that a cause suffers exactly to the extent that it is supported by violence. I say this in spite of appearances to the contrary. If I kill a man who obstructs me, I may experience a sense of false security. But the security will be short-lived. For I shall not have dealt with the root cause. In due course, other men will surely rise to obstruct me. My business, therefore, is not to kill the man or men who obstruct me, but to discover the cause that impels them to obstruct me and deal with it.
Dr. King was in Birmingham leading a movement to break segregation, and after great anguish he had xtaken this great gamble. There had been nonviolent demonstrations for over a month, and he had written his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, which no one paid much attention to. It had not been published. He was about to withdraw.
There were ferocious arguments within the movement about using small children to demonstrate. Not just 15-year-olds or 12-year-olds, but 6-year-olds. They only had twenty people willing to face Birmingham jails. So on May 2, 1963, they had a thousand children march out of the church. And the next day they had another thousand, and that’s when the police brought out the dogs and the fire hoses.
Those two days there were a tremendous watershed for nonviolence in the United States. There was an emotional reaction against the use of violence on these children, and it triggered sympathetic demonstrations across the country, forced President Kennedy to introduce the Civil Rights Bill, which changed the face of American politics and stimulated kindred movements. But what’s most interesting is that the reaction went against the violence and in favor of the nonviolence of the children, who were swept down the street by the hoses and chased by the dogs on those two days.