Valley Voices

Resisting injustice using the love-force

James Morris Lawson
James Morris Lawson Vanderbilt University

Every winter, we commemorate the lives of two figures who changed the course of history: the American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., and the “apostle of nonviolence,” Mahatma Gandhi.

Their lives and philosophies are testaments to the fact that love is more powerful than hatred; nonviolence is more effective than violence; and the mass movements are more potent than the machinery of systemic oppression.

King was supported by great leaders in the nonviolent struggle for ending discrimination.

One such leader was the Rev. James Morris Lawson, 88, who visited India in 1952, many years before King. Lawson was inspired by his mother’s teaching to not return hatred with hatred or a slap with a slap and found tactical tools in Gandhi’s methods of nonviolence and truth-force.

Since then, his life has exemplified nonviolent resistance and the resilience of the love-force.

Lawson states, “Nonviolence is love in action.”

This philosophy he translated into action: as a young minister, he pioneered efforts to desegregate Nashville, Tenn., in 1960 with a lunch counter sit-in campaign that involved students of many colleges.

Lawson’s methods remain exemplary as a model for nonviolent tactics: now 88, he continues to be a strong voice for the power of love and its ability to confront injustices. He is an active participant in various movements, including the Los Angeles labor movement, and continues to teach students nonviolent tactics to effect social change.

He proves that the philosophy of nonviolent activism is still effective and relevant today. King’s and Lawson’s adaptation of Gandhi’s methods for a Western context provides a recipe for nonviolent mobilization in the modern world.

Lawson is leading the new generation with his conviction in love-force.

Such a philosophy of direct action has the power to cultivate peace instead of paranoia, and create an environment in which humanity can flourish in harmony.

Meet Lawson at two Fresno State campus events: Feb. 22, 5:30 p.m. in the Alice Peters Auditorium 191: Two short film screenings with Lawson: “A Force More Powerful” and “Love and Solidarity.” On Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. in North Gym 118, there will be a lecture and book signing.

Gandhi’s and King’s lives, although truncated by violence, confirm the power of the universal moral principles of truth and love. They are inspirations for those seeking to confront our modern-day challenges.

On Jan. 30, 1948, Gandhi’s living flame of nonviolence, was apparently extinguished by the bullet of an assassin, who was against Gandhi’s ideology and programs of justice, equality and human dignity for all. However, Gandhi had presciently claimed that the method of nonviolence is not only “as old as the hills,” but also becomes even more powerful by the ultimate sacrifice.

Indeed, the sound of these bullets also silenced the cries of hatred and ethnic violence that was overwhelming these two new nations, India and Pakistan.

Across continents and oceans, this flame, symbolically and literally, was revived in the life and actions of Dr. King. A prominent torchbearer of Gandhi’s legacy in North America, King confirmed and gave new meaning to the broad value of Gandhi’s nonviolent methods for confronting injustice.

In the process, he brought it to a global consciousness; the past five decades have seen the rise of many nonviolent movements across the globe from Egypt to Iran, from the Philippines to the West Bank, Gaza and Liberia.

King visited Gandhi’s birthplace in 1959 and was inspired and energized by Gandhi’s historic success with nonviolent activism.

“I left India more convinced than ever before that nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to the oppressed people in their struggle for freedom,” King wrote. While deeply influenced by Gandhi, he created his own version of passive resistance, modifying the strategy in accordance with his core Christian values to secure rights for his people.

King’s stirring references to parables from Christian texts and Jesus’ teaching of turning the other cheek, in addition to his personal dedication and charismatic, fearless leadership, became key factors in inspiring the masses. His motto, “Freedom and Justice through Love,” invoked the activist element of the love-force.

The method of truth-force or love-force utilizes the strategies of civil disobedience, non-cooporation, and negotiation to confront various forms of injustices and seeks to transform the hearts of wrongdoers, so they see the light of truth.

Veena Rani Howard is a Gandhi scholar and coordinator of Peace and Conflict Studies and Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Fresno State. Contact: veenahoward@gmail.com

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