Cool Hero of the Day: Mahatma Gandhi

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One of the most significant facts about the life and vocation of Gandhi was his discovery of the East through the West. Like so many others of India, Gandhi received a completely Western education as a young man. He had to a great extent renounced the beliefs, the traditions, the habits of thought, of India. He spoke, thought, and acted like an Englishman, except of course that an Englishman was precisely what he could never, by any miracle, become. He was an alienated Asian whose sole function in life was to be perfectly English without being English at all: to prove the superiority of the West by betraying his own heritage and his own self, thinking as a white man without ceasing to be “a Nigger.” …

Gandhi was unusual in this. Instead of being fooled by the Western costume, and instead of being persuaded that he no longer really existed as an Asian, he recognized that the West had something good about it that was good not because it was Western but because it was also Eastern: that is to say, it was universal. So he turned his face and his heart once again to India, and saw what was really there. It was through his acquaintance with writers like Tolstoy and Thoreau, and then his reading of the New Testament, that Gandhi rediscovered his own tradition and his Hindu dharma (religion, duty). More than a tradition, more than a wisdom handed down in books or celebrated in temples, Gandhi discovered India in discovering himself. Hence it is very important indeed to understand Gandhi’s political life, and particularly his nonviolence, in the light of this radical discovery from which everything else received its meaning. Gandhi’s dedicated struggle for Indian freedom and his insistence on non-violent means in the struggle–both resulted from his new understanding of India and of himself after his contact with a universally valid spiritual tradition which he saw to be common to both East and West.

-Thomas Merton, Gandhi on Non-Violence

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 in New Delhi.

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One Million Moms for Gun Control

The morning after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Shannon Watts founded One Million Moms for Gun Control. Mother of five, Watts wrote on Huffington Post that the tragedy in Newtown was an epiphany for her:

I, like many American mothers, looked on for decades as gun violence increased and gun laws loosened. I hoped I could make a difference by raising compassionate children. I hoped that the President, our Congress, and our state and local legislators would act to protect us.

No more dependence on the actions of others; it is our time as mothers to rise up as a collective force and demand action on gun control.

The organization wants to enact “common sense” gun control laws, such as re-instituting the assault weapons ban and passing other laws limiting gun availability and misuse in the U.S.

On January 26, One Million Moms for Gun Control co-sponsored the March on Washington for Gun Control. In the video above, John Zangas interviews Shannon Watts at the conclusion of the march.

CODEPINK activist disrupts Kerry nomination hearing, demands end to military aid to Israel

Guards remove Code Pink intern Lachelle Roddy from the Kerry hearing in a screen grab from CNN Photograph: CNN

[UPDATE below: Lachelle Roddy comments on her reasons for speaking out during Senate Foreign Relations hearing.]

CODEPINK intern and college student Lachelle Roddy disrupted Senator John Kerry’s nomination hearing for Secretary of State today. [VIDEO below] From the gallery of the Senate chamber, Roddy voiced her objection to U.S. military aid to Israel:

We’re killing thousands of people in the Middle East who are not a threat to us. When is it going to be enough? When are enough people going to be killed? I’m tired of my friends in the Middle East not knowing if they’re going to live to see the next day!

CODEPINK is an activist group which opposes U.S. military aggression abroad, including military aid to Israel, which it believes is being used to oppress Palestinians.

Video of Roddy disrupting the hearing:

Update:

Roddy commented on her reasons for speaking out during the Senate hearing, which she says was a spontaneous outburst and not a planned action:

I stood in the back listening as they continued to reference how big of a threat the Middle East is to America and how America needs to be a global leader, as if we are not already occupying enough countries. I had had enough when they mentioned economic sanctions on Iran. I could not stay silent any longer, and decided to speak up.

Activist Lachelle Roddy, left, participates in CODEPINK Flash Mob at Union Station on January 19, 2013.

The effect of U.S. foreign policy on the lives of her friends from the Middle East also motivated her:

I live in a global village in Roanoke while in school [at Hollins University], and there are many women there from the Middle East including Afghanistan and Palestine. They never know whether their families will be alive the next day because of U.S. drones as well as U.S. funding of Israeli war crimes.

It’s very difficult for them to go to school here when they have so much hardship back at home because of our nation’s foreign policy, especially when they can not speak up out of fear of being labeled a terrorist.

Roddy was charged with unlawful conduct and interrupting Congress.

Update:

In response to Roddy’s outburst, Senator John Kerry retained his composure and recalled his activism following his military service in Vietnam:

When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of the group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is, above all, what this place is about. So I respect, I think, the woman who was voicing her concerns about that part of the world, and maybe one of you have traveled there. Some of you were there recently. Senator McCain, you were just there, you were in a refugee camp, and I know you heard this kind of thing. People measure what we do.

Protestors critical of Obama policies, say he continues legacy of predecessor


While thousands filled the National Mall around the Capitol building where President Obama is sworn in for his second term, a smaller crowd gathering at Meridian Hill Park is largely critical of the president and his policies.

Dissent against the status quo and entrenched power emerged as the theme of the rally organized by the Arc of Justice Coalition (@arcofjustice13). Overall, there was a consensus that Martin Luther King’s birthday was more important than the Inauguration, and rally speakers often referred to him rather than the President as an example to follow.

Speaker Jean Athey of Peace Action advised listeners to ignore the “sanitized” version of King, and instead remember that King was a revolutionary and radical who made people angry. “He knew what he was doing was dangerous,” she said.

He took on the three major issues of the day: racism, capitalism, and militarism, she said. These goals closely resembled the issues raised by the protestors at the rally, which included drone warfare, military spending, loss of civil liberties, and the corrupt influence of corporation on the political system.

Protestors carried four full-size model drones down 14th Street as they made their way toward the White House.

Ladd Everitt, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence

Update: Not everyone had negative things to say about President Obama. Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence pleaded with ralliers to support the President’s new gun control legislation, proposed in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

“Whatever grievances you have, lay them down for a few months. Obama’s gun package is the most important initiative put forward in American history. Finally we are going to reduce gun violence in this country.”

He explained that the gun industry is combating declining sales by persuading people that they must arm themselves 24/7 and accumulate more and more weapons, including assault weapons.

“This is comprehensive reform to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” he said. “We have to seize this opportunity [while] the President is putting the full weight of the White House behind it.”

Code Pink flash mobs Union Station

Code Pink descended on Washington, DC’s Union Station today to deliver a message about stopping the spread of weapons and reducing U.S. militarism abroad. Sporting funky pink costumes, Code Pink activists sang and danced in the main hall of Union Station, even more crowded than usual with travelers arriving for Inauguration Day. Security was also at the max.

While entertaining the crowd, Code Pink interspersed antics like dancing a can-can with a serious message. “End gun violence now, end drone violence now,” they chanted. Many of the songs and remarks were addressed to President Obama. “It’s been 10 years, it’s time to leave Afghanistan and end the war on terror,” said Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin.

On the morning of Inauguration Day, Code Pink will join a coalition of progressive organizations in a rally at Malcolm X Park, then march down 14th Street.

More photos of the flash mob are here.

And video highlights by @organizerx:

In wake of temple shooting, a better image for Sikhs: “We want everyone to know, love, understand who we are”

Vigil at White House for victims of Sikh temple shooting/Photo by Gurdeep Singh

On Sunday morning, August 5, a man entered a Sikh temple and interrupted a ceremony that had been going on for two whole days. He gunned down six people, then he was wounded in the sanctuary and killed in the temple’s parking lot by police.

The shooter, Michael Wade Page, was a white supremacist. The massacre happened at the culmination of a 48-hour ceremony–the continuous reading of the entire text of a Sikh scripture, explained Jaipal Singh, an architect and Sikh from Cincinnati, Ohio. The congregation was eating prashad, or blessed food. “It was the most vulnerable moment,” he said. “An acceptance of the work, when people were most mindful, most thoughtful.”

Photo by Gurdeep Singh

Jaipal and his fiancé Ridhi Kaur were visiting Washington, DC to work with three organizations as part of an effort to “direct the dialogue” following the shooting at the temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund), the Sikh Coalition, and United Sikhs organized a candlelight vigil in front of the White House on August 12.

Approaching the anniversary of 9/11, it’s the time of the year when we remember the fear and helplessness we experienced when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were attacked. The reaction that followed was anger. It was often directed at Muslims or people who “look like” Muslims.

Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims because they wear turbans and Sikh men grow beards as an article of faith. Their appearance fits a stereotypical image Americans have of Muslims. Confusing Sikhs and Muslims may have contributed to hate-crimes against them. According to the Associated Press, more than 700 hate-related incidents against Sikhs have been reported since 9/11.

Although Jaipal is in every sense American–he was born and raised in Cincinnati–he says he has often experienced discrimination personally. Because he is dark-skinned and wears a beard and turban, people have come up to him on the street and said hostile things to him. He says he had to learn how not to react to the hostility. He found that any anger was counterproductive.

He attributes the cause of discrimination and violence against Sikhs to a “sense of other.” “It’s the idea of not accepting those other than ourselves,” he says. He thinks white supremacists like Michael Wade Page are essentially saying, “You are not us, and get out!”

He contrasts this with the Sikh belief in non-duality. “We believe in one God, Divine Being, or Creator,” he says. “Truth without hatred. There is no good or evil, only oneness. There is a sense of divinity in everyone.” Since every person contains this divinity, he says, harming another person is in reality harming oneself.

The shooting in Wisconsin was tragic, but Jaipal sees an opportunity for a positive change in the way Americans and the media view Sikhs. “We want everyone to know, love, and understand who we are,” he says. “Until Americans see themselves in Sikhs, we’re going to have to keep revisiting this.”

Photo by Gurdeep Singh

United Sikhs have started a campaign called “I Pledge Against Hate Crime.”