Monday, January 19, 2009

where we've come from

It is a beautiful coincidence that the inauguration of our nation's first black President happens to coincide with the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr's legacy in the United States. It seems that Americans are doing a great deal of looking back just now at the civil rights journey we have walked together as a nation, at who made this day in history possible.

Usually on the King holiday I post a speech or sermon by Dr. King. (If you are looking for some of his words today, visit the King Institute's web page, or check out one of his wonderful books from the library). Over the summer I read
Strength to Love, as well as the Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr, and found them both incredibly inspiring.

Through that reading I learned a great deal about where Dr. King's roots lie, particularly his guiding principle of social change through non-violence. King was profoundly inspired by the philosophy and political organizing of Gandhi, who led a non-violent movement for independence in India that revolutionized King's thinking about how to achieve freedom in the United States.

So in the spirit of this looking back today, I thought I'd share a few words of the mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi.

"The fact that there are so many men still alive in the world shows that it is based not on the force of arms but on the force of truth or love. Therefore, the greatest and most unimpeachable evidence of the success of this force is to be found in the fact that, in spite of the wars of the world, it still lives on.

"Thousands, indeed tens of thousands, depend for their existence on a very active working of this force. Little quarrels of millions of families in their daily lives disappear before the exercise of this force. Hundreds of nations live in peace. History dies not and cannot take note of this fact. History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul. Two brothers quarrel; one of them repents and re-awakens the love that was lying dormant in him; the two again begin to live in peace; nobody takes note of this. But if the two brothers, through the intervention of solicitors or some other reason take up arms or go to law – which is another form of the exhibition of brute force,their doings would be immediately noticed in the press, they would be the talk of their neighbours and would probably go down to history. And what is true of families and communities is true of nations. There is no reason to believe that there is one law for families and another for nations. History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural, is not noted in history."

-Mohandas K. Gandhi, from Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), 1919.

If you haven't seen the film Gandhi, it's a wonderful way to understand the universality of the human struggle for freedom, and the spectacular power of love and non-violence to bring about that freedom. And if (like me) you are a community organizer, you will probably be awe-struck at Gandhi's brilliant campaigns, just as you would be by the genius of King's organizing campaigns from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Voting Rights Act (just as you have been by Barack Obama's meteoric campaign to the White House).

We are at another crossroads on the long, hard road to human freedom. I believe that it's worth studying the philosophies and the methods of those who have led us here.


  1. thank you for sharing these words from gandhi on this fabulous day. i was thinking about this connection over the weekend... did you hear npr's piece with a new speech of king's that was found in india?
    feeling so very optimistic and joyful about the change that is to come this year!

  2. Amen. Also interesting that so many of them were inspired by their faith. Something positive about religion, for a change!

  3. Thank you for this post and enjoy this historic day.

  4. Congratulations from Canada! It's been heart-warming, soul-restoring...watching the inauguration events today.

    Gina C.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.