The year of 2019 is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. We, in Philadelphia, will celebrate his life and legacy. As we celebrate Gandhi, we celebrate his leadership of the Indian anti-colonial struggle, a struggle against white supremacy and against the oppressive colonial rule of the British empire. For the African-American people, and all progressive and peace-loving people in the US, he sets an example and provides a vision in the fight for our common future. For far too long, the world has been ruled on the basis of European domination and persistent war. We turn to Gandhi as a figure for our times. He teaches us how to stand for peace and justice, love and truth, and how to believe in the oneness of humanity and fight for unity in the midst of evil systems and ideologies that work to divide us.
Gandhi brought life and movement to an India that suffocated under colonial rule and was choked by the dust of the ages and by ancient and decaying structures and ideas. He rejected European values and colonialism as the disruption and degradation of humanity, and based his life and politics in the renewal of humanity’s ancient traditions of peace, love, and unity. In awakening India, he awakened the imaginations of Africa and Afro America. He allowed humanity to think anew about itself and rediscover itself. He led his people by living among them, experiencing their suffering. He abandoned the British trained Indian elite and went to the toiling masses, especially the peasants. He donned their traditional dress abandoning western clothing. He lived in a village and always traveled third class which was the place assigned to the peasantry and poor.
We appreciate Gandhi for his political genius, that saw the masses of people as the makers of history and the agents of change. He went to the vast Indian peasantry, lived among them, lived as they lived and learned from them. He was the flesh of their flesh and the bone of their bone. He glimpsed their indomitable will and vast potential to bring about revolutionary change. He led them through example and humility. They thus grew to trust him in ways that few leaders in history have been trusted. He crafted methods and tactics of struggle that were completely new and unique to the specifics of the Indian peasantry and workers. Yet these methods were applied internationally, especially in the African American struggle for freedom and the African anti-colonial struggles.
Gandhi based his struggles on the concept of ahimsa: non-violence and satyagraha: insistence on the truth or truth-force. These were ancient concepts, drawn from Jain and Hindu traditions, and can be found in one or the other form in all religious traditions. They uphold the concept that all human life has virtue and that truth, and hence freedom, can be reached. Gandhi converted these concepts into a concrete social force, he put into practice a strategy for collective liberation through resistance to evil. In the end, Gandhi taught the downtrodden to love themselves and to even see the spark of divinity in their enemies, but in doing so, to stand up and fight for justice. He was a phenomenon, that was not predicted and not expected, and yet which changed the course of the history of the world.
The freedom of India and the defeat of the British empire spiraled into a world-wide anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle. It inspired the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It inspired the black freedom struggle in America, as part of the world-wide struggle against racial oppression.
In celebrating Gandhi, we also celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., the greatest interpreter of Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. showed that non-violent resistance is an act of extreme courage, he showed that love can be a powerful social force capable of changing society. Martin Luther King Jr. continued what Gandhi had started and took it to greater heights. He took the principles of ahimsa and satyagraha and fused them with African American Christianity and spirituality in ways that defined the moral and tactical approaches in the Black freedom struggle. He created a new language and a new philosophy which was a beautiful synthesis of India and Afro-America. In fighting for the liberation of black people in the United States, he fought for the liberation of humanity as such. There is a single garment of destiny that binds King and Gandhi in their fight for peace and a new world.
Today, we are in a period of a profound and existential crisis of the old world order. We live in a time of pessimism, a time when poverty and a deep tiredness affects our people. Humanity continues to face the profound danger of a world war. International relations continue to be defined by imperialism and neo-colonialism. In this dark hour, we look to this history to illuminate our future. A new world is being born and we will struggle to define it with a new freedom, a new democracy and with world peace. It will be a world in which darker women and men will take their rightful place. It will be a new civilization with social and economic arrangements that serve humanity.
The lives and ideas of Gandhi, and of King, teach us that the power of the spirit can challenge military, economic and political domination. They teach us that love is powerful, that it can challenge unjust and evil systems. They show the creative and redemptive power in love, its strength and its radical potential. People can make history, and love can be an enormous moving force towards justice and truth.
And so, following Gandhi, King and all those who came before us, we call today for peace. We call for a beloved community, for a social ethic defined by a love supreme. We call to an end to the wars that the American Government wages, and a peace budget that serves the poor. We call for a constructive program that rebuilds a collapsing society, and puts an end to the war at home. We call for an education that raises the consciousness of the masses of people. We call for a new music and new art that is based in a love for the people. We call on workers, on unions, churches, theologians, artists, scientists and all peace-loving people to participate in this Year of Gandhi and continue the fight for peace.
The deep relationship between India and Afro-America, and their common struggle for freedom, has much to teach the world. The life of Gandhi, King, the legacy of struggle, the principles of ahimsa and satyagraha take on a new significance. The form of international relations must increasingly be defined by these concepts. We must rededicate ourselves to the struggle for peace and fight for the transition to a society where humanity can find its rightful place.
The year of Gandhi is a time of renewed struggle and commitment. Let us unite and move forward in the name of humanity, of peace and freedom. We stand upon the shoulders of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.. The year of Gandhi is a time to spread the meaning of his ideas for the 21st century and to awaken a renewed spirit of hope among our people.
Long live Gandhi and the struggle for peace and freedom.