Gandhi, Non-violence and the Politics of 2017

Sharpening the tools to resist oppression

With the election of Donald Trump we are witnessing a coup that combines white nationalism, finance capital and militarism.

The Lane Peace Center is bringing Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, to Eugene on Feb. 16. His talk, titled “Gandhi and Non-violence: Relevance for the 21st Century,” is well timed to help us gain perspective on these surreal and turbulent times.

Underlying the white nationalism behind the Trump presidency is the alt-right message of a revival of white Christian European nationalism with roots in colonialism and conquest. Domestically, this is reflected in a cabinet of billionaires who view the world through a transactional corporate filter and military men willing to use force at home under the guise of “homeland” security.

Internationally, Christian European nationalism is being used to undermine the United Nations and the European Union, while right-wing parties rise in both Eastern and Western Europe with slogans comparable to “Make America Great Again.” Instead of an internationalist system based on mutuality, Trump and company will seek to create a confederacy of oligarchs.

Ideologically, Trump and Co. seek to end the two frameworks that have structured our economics and politics since the early 1930s. The first is the progressive movement embodied in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, with its base in unionized labor broadened in the 1960s to include civil rights. 

Make no mistake, the Trump administration, with the help of Republicans, intends to erase all traces of progressive economics, politics and civil rights.

The second framework, beginning in the 1970s, is neoliberalism, rooted in finance capitalism made manifest though economic globalization. 

In place of the progressive and neoliberal economics and politics, Trump envisions a confederacy of bankers squeezing national treasuries and populations with austerity measures to service debt.

This is a grim future, but it will not be successful. There are fundamental issues that Trump’s vision does not address — including climate chaos, peak fossil fuels, the structural limits of finance capitalism and popular resistance.

So we are in a time of transition with an uncertain future. Important questions must be asked: Will the United States Constitution contain the Trump agenda within the system of checks and balances? Or are we on the verge of creating a new framework for economics and politics that recognizes ecological limits and the rights of both people and the planet?

In these times, Gandhi’s principles provide us a guide to action. At the personal level, embracing non-violence reveals ourselves to ourselves by making clear our connection to humanity and the planet. This engenders goodwill in the face of adversity. As Gandhi said, we must “be the change that we wish to see in the world.”

Gandhi also provided us the tools to resist oppression. The heart of his message is satyagraha, which translates into truth or soul force. His method is non-violent noncooperation, which involves the withdrawal of support for governments that engages in oppression and exploitation. History shows that when people remove support, governments fall. We are already seeing signs of the withdrawal of support in the form of the global women’s march, the mass protests at airports in defiance of Trump’s immigration ban, and in the call for a general strike on Feb. 17 ( 

Arun Gandhi will bring his grandfather’s message to Eugene at 7 pm Thursday, Feb. 16. He will speak in Building 19, the Center for Meeting and Learning, on the Lane Community College main campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Stan Taylor is the chair of the Peace Center at Lane Community College, where he teaches classes in peace and conflict, environmental politics, and civil rights and liberties. He has a juris doctor from McGeorge School of Law, a masters in International Law from Georgetown University Law Center and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Oregon.

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