What would Gandhi do?

Jan
6
2012
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Lynne McTaggart
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The old hippy in me is cringing. For this historic New Year of 2012, I’m surveying the state of things in the West, particularly in America, and wondering what’s been in the Kool-Aid, particularly the variety that the American left has been drinking. What on earth ever happened to public outrage? Or protest? Or any sense of anger translating into action?

 

The figures continue to be bad around the world. By way of example, the latest American figures show that half of all Americans are struggling to get by on low incomes. The financial markets continue to worsen, soon to eclipse those of the 1930s. Millions of people have been turfed out of their homes, surrounding homeowners have lost $1.86 trillion in home value, 13 million people are out of work, and the collective wealth of American households has dropped by $16 trillion.

The old hippy in me is cringing. For this historic New Year of 2012, I’m surveying the state of things in the West, particularly in America, and wondering what’s been in the Kool-Aid, particularly the variety that the American left has been drinking. What on earth ever happened to public outrage? Or protest? Or any sense of anger translating into action?

 

The figures continue to be bad around the world. By way of example, the latest American figures show that half of all Americans are struggling to get by on low incomes. The financial markets continue to worsen, soon to eclipse those of the 1930s. Millions of people have been turfed out of their homes, surrounding homeowners have lost $1.86 trillion in home value, 13 million people are out of work, and the collective wealth of American households has dropped by $16 trillion.

 

As Thomas Frank, author of Pity the Billionaire, wrote, ‘If you had brought the world’s teenaged anarchists together in some great international congress and asked them to design an ideal crisis, they could not have discredited market-based civilization more completely than did the crash of 2008.’

 

‘If ever a financial order deserved a 30s-style repudiation, this one did,’ he adds. ‘Its gods were false. Its taste was bad. Its heroes were oafs and brutes and thieves and bullies. And all of them failed, even on their own stunted terms.’

 

In their stride

Nevertheless, bar a very small percentage of the population in the Occupy movement, most ordinary people are taking all of this on the chin.

 

In the 1930s, after four years of economic depression just like today, farmers across American radicalized and began to create roadblocks to farmers’ markets. In 1933, thousands of farmers marched on Washington to put a halt to farm foreclosures.   Veterans marched on Washington to protest unpaid pensions. Violence erupted in the streets. Leaders like Huey Long and Father Coughlin incited protest – as did Labor unions and the Communist party, which held campaigns, boycotts, and hunger marches that immobilized entire cities.

 

In the 1960s, after Brown vs the Board of Education, the American Civil Rights Movement gained enormous power and influence through the strategy of mobilizing millions for direct action, with protests, civil disobedience, non-violent resistance and sit-ins. In response to the Vietnam War, college students held well organized mass protests and, in 1970, after Kent State’s killing of four protesting students by National Guardsmen, essentially closed down universities across the land.

 

Through a friend I got to know the late Al Lowenstein, politician one-time Congressman and general political mobilizer. Without money or influence, Lowenstein started a Dump Johnson movement in the mid-1960s by criss-crossing America, garnering the student vote. As a result of Lowenstein’s solo efforts, Johnson never got a second term.

 

All this in the days before Twitter or Facebook.

 

Making nice

Frank’s brilliant point, underscored by an English columnist Nick Garner in the Guardian recently, is that the far political Right, notably the Tea Party, have appropriated all the passion and the anger of the Left and used it not to protest against the real culprit - a broken financial model and a grotesque and untenable culture of consumption - but against the US government for too much interference. I’ve been reading The Daily Reckoning lately and it is instructive. The argument by libertarian columnist Bill Bonner is that the problem with capitalism, the reason it collapsed, is that it is not capitalist enough.

 

Meanwhile, the Left’s largest demonstration on Washington since the 2008 crash, held in 2010, has concerned. . . let’s be nice to each other. The Rally to Restore Sanity was a call for ‘reasonableness’ and for setting aside political differences. No march against the extraordinary cost in lives and money on two largely meaningless wars. No outcry that the banks took trillions of public money to underwrite a new round of bonuses. No sit-in to stop foreclosures. No rage against the corporate machine.

 

Let’s make nice.

 

Obama, their candidate, who ran his entire platform on hope and change, responded to the growing crisis by employing his Bush’s financial advisors, refusing to reign in Wall Street, and then essentially throwing up his hands.

 

While I am all for looking for common ground and reaching out to the other side of the aisle (where we all have more in common than anyone realizes), what is now required is for each and everyone one of us to get off our oversoft behinds and engaging in some old-fashioned when-in-the-course-of-human-events style protest against all the corruption going on around us.

 

Acts of Satyagraha

Consider the power and achievement of Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi was as great a peacemaker as ever lived, yet he believed in Satyagraha, the philosophy of non-violence, which literally means ‘the force that is generated through adherence to Truth.’

 

Central to Gandhi’s methods was polite – that is to say, ‘civil’ – disobedience. In Gandhi’s view, non-violence activism was justified in the face of unjust laws or tyranny, but the manner of protest should avoid hostile language, damage to property, secrecy or law-breaking or any but the unjust laws themselves.

 

In other words, and here’s the important bit: when there are unjust laws, the most effective course of action is to collectively ignore them.

 

Gandhi used these techniques to organise peasants, farmers and laborers to protest excessive taxation, to stop discrimination against women and the untouchables, and of course to end British rule.

 

Gandhi persuaded millions of Indian peasants to refuse to pay the British salt tax by first refusing himself to pay and then beginning a 24-day 240-mile march, during which he picked up followers along the way.

 

The power of saying no

Gandhi understood that the power of any law or leader depends upon the people’s agreement to obey it. If citizens simply refuse to obey the law, the law or leader loses its power.

 

As Gandhi said, ‘I believe that non government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.’  

 

As a resident of the UK, I saw the power of this tactic in the 1980s with the much-hated Poll tax. The British people simply refused to pay this tax, and it was eventually withdrawn, even with the Iron Lady in charge.

 

This year, our New Year’s resolution must be to mobilize together – Left and Right together – and just start saying NO.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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