Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas Gandhi.
Born in Gujarat in 1869, Mohandas Gandhi would study law in London and later practice in South Africa where he lived for twenty-one years. It was there that he became politically active while developing—and practicing—nonviolent resistance. A philosophy that would guide him in his quest to end British rule of India and throughout his life.
In 1930, Gandhi led the Salt March, walking 241 miles in twenty-four days to protest British taxes. Between November 1946 and March 1947, he walked barefoot, from one village to another (forty-nine in all) in an effort to bring Muslims and Hindus together. He also made history with hunger strikes—sometimes fasting to the point of delirium.
He was complicated—more than most. He took pride in keeping his feelings under control—to the detriment of others. He once said, “I did not prove an ideal father." He mistreated women, a fact given short shrift before the #metoo era.
Yet his convictions ran deep and they changed the world: “It is not non-violence if we love merely those that love us. It is non-violence only when we love those that hate us.”
After his death Nehru, then prime minister, addressed his country by radio, saying, “Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more… The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”
October 2 is also the first year anniversary of the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, The Washington Post columnist, who disappeared mysteriously after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His death is an unwelcome reminder of the risks journalists face, both mindfully and unwittingly, to get the facts, to pursue truth, to protect freedom.
And it is a reminder of why the world desperately needs more Gandhis. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela carried the torch—changing the world in big ways. In ways many would never have thought possible. Not everyone dreams big dreams. Not everyone believes deep down that change can be achieved non-violently.
But there are a few.
There is Dr. William Barber, the leader of the Poor People’s Party, who raises his magnificent voice to call for “mass voter registration and mobilization, and nonviolent civil disobedience in order to build a political system that upholds justice for all.”
There is Thich Nhat Hanh, who was honored this past July as the first recipient of the Gandhi Mandela Peace Prize. A Buddhist monk, born in Vietnam, he is a poet and a practitioner of mindfulness, admired by followers around the world.
There is Jane Goodall, lover and protector of animals, a leader of the conservation movement, and the founder of the Roots and Shoots, an organization now active in more than 140 countries, that encourages youth to work on environmental issues. “Think about the consequences of the little choices, like what you buy, eat, wear… Gandhi said this planet can provide for human need, but not human greed. That's a very important message."
There is Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and author of “Just Mercy.” His book and the new film cry out for better treatment of African American men, restorative justice, and the abolition of the death penalty.
There is Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan who showed great courage in standing up for non-violence and the right to education while opposing the Taliban. Speaking at the UN, she said, “I want education for the sons and daughters of all the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hands and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him… Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world."