Mahatma Ghandi was the leader of the anti-imperialist movement in India and South Africa in the early 20th century, which lead to their successful independence in 1947. His signature process of non-violent protests were a significant part of an overall strategy towards independence from England and the British Empire. Ghandi refused to accept the status quo, took up this cause, transformed his life and became the face of the emancipation of Indians from imperialist rule. He saw the injustice, the maltreatment of brown people in their own country, their jobs and their homes.
Marches became a ritual form of protest for Ghandi and his followers. As we see in the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), there is a powerful energy that is generated from masses of people exhibiting the reality of injustice and racism in society. However, Ghandi can teach us a great deal about our current confrontations of injustice involving a powerful force, local and state police. Just as in India, the British rule was an acceptable reality, despite the domination and imperial non-consideration of India’s own. We’ve become accustomed to different types of law enforcement and criminal justice depending on the color of our skin.
The one thing that makes Ghandi different from many other societal reformers is his commitment to personal change, his change. Ghandi once stated, “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.” To be able to notice and cry out about the objective wrongs in society, it helps to authenticate your words when it comes from a place of personal transformation and inner peace.
There is too much opportunism in social change movements. We see this in the violent reactions formed by hate groups with intentional disruptions. This is not the path towards change. We embolden the law enforcement establishment when disarray and chaos ensues. The issue becomes one of “law and order” and diverts the attention away from the heart of the injustice. Ghandi knew this, since the British empire had a powerful police and military force to silence him and the movement. He was simply able to point to the wrongs, the injustice and inequalities, and plainly state – you are the problem and you will leave India! He organized the famous Salt March, marching with thousands of Indians for over 240 miles to the Arabian Sea Coast to protest the British salt tax. His disobedience was clear. Our disobedience should also be clear. We need to confront any opportunism that arises during this movement, and encourage hate groups to stand aside, since they are not being helpful at all.
Finally, Ghandi exemplified a significant degree of effort and discipline. From being a young British trained attorney, to forming the Ashram and attracting a spiritual community, allowed him to clarify his vision, draw the attraction of millions and execute one of the most powerful and successful social movements in recent history. We can do the same. Allow the movement to change the oppressive unjust forces, and most of all, change yourself! The transformation could be extremely freeing and enhancing you as a tool for social change and social justice.
Dr. Heran is the co-founder and CEO of Providence Treatment in Philadelphia, PA. He is a licensed psychotherapist, teacher and student of life. As a former Jesuit, Dr. Heran incorporates spirituality into his work with professionals struggling with the disease of addiction. For more information, please visit www.providencetreatment.com.