Happy International Non-Violence Day! Also known as Gandhi’s Birthday, the 2nd of October is set by a UN resolution to commemorate the spirit of non-violence and celebrate peace, tolerance and understanding.
The day was chosen to confer the near-universal respect for Mahatma Gandhi, a prominent proponent of non-violence who once said “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”.
Gandhi forged his anti-violent identity first in South Africa, where he would lead a non-violent civil disobedience campaign to help curb discrimination of Indians in South Africa. He then returned to his home in India where he orchestrated several non-violent campaigns against colonial rule, like the Salt March, and in establishing economic independence.
Gandhi also played a role in helping to quell riots and violence in India following it’s independence and partition into Pakistan and India via hunger strikes. This is only an insultingly short version of Gandhi’s history; but that is because today is about commemorating more than just Gandhi.
Non-violence can be and is used to achieve real change and can carry global significance. Right now, there are global strikes that culminated around the latest UN Climate Summit and will likely continue into the future. This movement is being galvanised by a courageous Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, (among other groups and activists like Extinction Rebellion, 350 Australia, Greenpeace, WWF, Australian Conservation Foundation) who begun striking on her own in August 2018, and inspired others worldwide to join her.
But there have been many turning points in history that have revolved around non-violence. The Montgomery Bus Boycott in the 1950’s and the March on Washington led by Martin Luther King in the 1960’s are shining examples of how real change can be achieved with non-violence.
Ending Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War was largely associated with the massive public demonstrations against the war in 1970. 200,000 people mobilised around the country to protest our involvement in Vietnam and later that year, Whitlam had organised for the removal of the last Australian troops.
Nelson Mandela is another popular example of non-violence, albeit used sometimes inaccurately. Mandela used a mixture of protest, non-cooperation and boycott at the start of his political campaign against apartheid. But after one of the protests ended in a violent massacre of 69 unarmed protestors by government forces, his tactics switched. The African National Congress adopted more guerrilla tactics that landed Mandela in prison and on the USA terror watch list.
Artwork has long been used as a means of questioning war and resisting power. A popular anti-war symbol is in the painting of Guernica by Pablo Picasso, which helped to highlight to the wider world the horrors of aerial bombing campaigns by Francisco Franco’s fascist forces.
You might not be aware of the work of Banksy in the West Bank, tagging the Israeli separation wall to highlight the injustice against Palestinians. At the end of 2018, Banksy erected a replica of the Israeli separation wall in London to bring more attention to the issue.
Music and musicians have also shared a long history of resistance to war and power. In ’69 John Lennon and Yoko Ono held a bed-in to protest the Vietnam War. In 1988 there was a five-night protest festival in Estonia to protest against the Soviet rule; 100,000 people of the country’s 1.5 million turned out. Music is being used to protest the Climate Crisis, with Extinction Rebellion seeking to unite people in protest and music in cities all over the world during October.
This is only a short history of a few tiny examples of non-violent protest that have taken place, but it immediately highlights that non-violence serves an important role in checking power structures. It can help to highlight the brutality of established power and then to dismantle that power where it’s necessary.