Did you know October 2 is the International Day of Non-Violence? Neither did I and it was a big surprise when I stumble on the information during my daily scrounging for something—any damn thing—to write about. My first thought was that it is such a good idea that it is no wonder it is obscure.
It’s one of those United Nations observances. Right away that makes it deeply suspect here in America where a huge chunk of the population is convinced that UN black helicopters supported by the minions Barak Hussein Obama are poised to swoop down and rip the guns from the hands of patriots. But other UN holidays get better press even here—International Women’s Day, International Children’s Day, the International Day of Indigenous Peoples—to name a few examples.
Maybe it’s because it is still pretty new and hasn’t had a chance to catch on—it was first observed in 2008 after being adopted General Assembly on June 15, 2007. Apparently the ambassadors of several countries were asleep. After all protest—even non-violent protest—is not popular with a wide range of dictatorships and even with oligarchies posing as democracies. It’s law breaking and anarchy in practice in most countries and only to be encouraged in the realms of one’s enemies. Take the U.S. which gets giddy in support of various color coded non-violent revolutions where the old Soviet Union held sway or about Arab Springs, but shovels riot gear and arms to dozens of repressive regimes when those being repressed are on our own shit list.
And in an era of militarized police, free speech zones, the general criminalization of dissent, and FBI/NSS coordination of local law enforcement suppression of the Occupy movement, it is pretty clear that there is no commitment to respecting non-violent protest at home, either.
The very origins of the UN observance are, after all, suspect.
In 2003 Shirin Ebadi an Iranian lawyer, a former judge, human rights activist, founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate met an Indian teacher, Akshay Bakaya in Paris. Bakaya brought her an idea that he said originated with his students—an international observance honoring non-violence as a tool for social change tied in some way to its greatest modern proponent, Mahatma Gandhi.
On January 30, 2004 while in Bombay, India for the World Social Forum, Ebadi first proposed that the date, also the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination by Hindi extremists in 1948 be designated as an international day of non-violence.
In tandem with South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ebadi reiterated the proposal at the Satyagraha Conference at Delhi but changed the proposed date to October 2, Gandhi’s birthday which already was an Indian celebration known as Gandhi Jayanti. The conference had been cosponsored by Tutu and Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress Party. The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi and translates as “insistence on truth” or “soul force.” It is a philosophy and practice within the broader idea of non-violent resistance.
With the support of the ruling Congress Party, India brought the idea to the U.N. General Assembly, which acted with unusual speed adopting the proposal on June 15 of the same year. The resolution called on member states to commemorate October 2 in “an appropriate manner and disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness.”
The first year celebration was marked by the issuance of a postal cachet by the United Nations Postal Administration in New York City which was used on all outgoing U.N. mail between October 2 and 31 of that year.
Since then celebrations in most countries outside of India and South Africa have been, at best, muted.
Perhaps that is because the Non-Violence promoted by the commemoration is not just a sort of vague warm fuzzy pacifism, but an active strategy for social change. The U.N. puts it this way:
One key tenet of the theory of non-violence is that the power of rulers depends on the consent of the population, and non-violence therefore seeks to undermine such power through withdrawal of the consent and cooperation of the populace.
There are three main categories of non-violence action:
protest and persuasion, including marches and vigils;
non-violent intervention, such as blockades and occupations.
Gee, that sounds like the last thing most regimes want to happen.
Maybe today is a good day to dust off this neglected celebration….in the streets. Seems to me we have plenty of reasons to do it….