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Tag Archives: occupy-wall-street

I want to flesh out the picture I’ve been painting of Gandhi by pointing out that, although he urges Satyagrahis not to resist arrest – this does not mean that they are not to show any form of resistance when dealing with the police. Naturally, he urges people to resist harassment and brutality by not complying with whatever it is the police are trying to get them to do. For example, during the salt protest of 1930, the police often attempted to seize contraband salt forcefully from the protesters, and Gandhi praised them for sitting on the ground and clinging to their bags of salt with four limbs as the police tried to take them away. That Gandhi urges resistance in this situation and not during an arrest, is that, in his belief, making arrests is a civil, responsible way to enforce a law while attacking or making threats is a form of what he calls “Goonda Raj,” i.e, rule by thugs. This distinction makes perfect sense to me.

Sadly, this once again leads me to wonder: what can people today do similarly, when faced with injustices? I have only seen little of the Occupy Wall Street protests, my immediate modern example, and it seems that they responded quite well to the police. That’s not really an issue: the protests were/are non-violent in action (though perhaps violent in word and thought – though I’m not going to get into that now). The problem once again is: what is it that they were not participating in? I feel that’s the issue. Non-violent confrontation cannot go anywhere without demands. OWS made an attempt to put together demands, but it was handled more like an after-thought than the core of the protests. I feel that such things need to occur before anyone stands on the pavement, otherwise either the cause is lost or it will erupt into violence.

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One quick note this time. There is a lot to absorb in Satyagraha, but I am taking it in slowly (around 2 chapters per day), and the ideas are beginning to stick a little bit.

1. Revisiting a point I made in my last post about Gandhi, it still impresses me how often Gandhi says that non-violence is something a practitioner should die for. The process does not work if you are not laying your life on the line. Otherwise it cannot be taken seriously, and you are not truly committed.

This also applies to arrests and imprisonment. According to Gandhi, a Satyagrahi is not to complain or resist arrest in any way. This seems entirely counter-intuitive to our current conception of non-violent resistance – which seems to largely consist of provoking people until the police arrive, so you can “resist” the police. That’s not what Gandhi’s idea of resistance is about. What a Satyagrahi resists is participation in an unjust system: you are supposed to be demonstrating that you would rather make large sacrifices than cooperate in a government or other organization that uses violence to enforce an unjust set of circumstances. For example, unfair taxation; an occupation of an entire nation by a colonial power; slavery; things like that. You demonstrate your non-participation by giving things up: your privileges, honors, posts and – scary thought these days – your jobs, to convince the offenders that you will not submit to any system that does not fit your morals.

This is not how Occupy Wall Street is (was? is it still going?) operating – or really any modern protest I’ve seen recently, including the protests against SOPA/PIPA. Interestingly, Maddox, of “The Best Page in the Universe” and “Alphabet of Manliness” fame, has offered a plan for action against SOPA that seems to be the closest to Gandhi’s principles. It’s not quite there, as he is essentially suggesting that corporations that support SOPA/PIPA should be punished with boycotts – and punishment is explicitly excluded from Satyagraha – but he is the only person I have yet heard who has insisted that protests are meaningless without personal sacrifice. If there are more, please comment and let me know.

This brings up the question: what kinds of non-violent sacrifices can we make that would really change how our government and society at large work?