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Sunday, April 3, 2022

Rep.John Lewis and non-violent activism

 I just finished reading a book by the civil rights movement icon Rep. John Lewis. The title of the book is Across the Bridge: Life lessons and a vision for the future. In my view, this book must become a required reading for all, certainly for the citizens of the United States. Here are my reasons.

It is a book on the recent history of the civil rights movements around the world and in the US. He documents several crucial events on the way to freedom and the hardships previous generations faced, which many of us do not know. He witnessed some of them. He knew many of the freedom fighters personally. He learnt from them and followed the idea of nonviolent resistance to unjust practices.

John Lewis makes it clear that freedom for all human beings and civil rights are not just legal matters. The idea of freedom of the individual and human rights is spiritual in nature since all of us are created equal. The struggle has to be spiritual in nature and not legal battles or based on physical violence. I hope future activists keep this most important point in mind.

 When laws are immoral or unethical, we have a duty to resist and create conditions for change, always by nonviolent methods. These were the principles of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movement which he called Satyagraha. John Lewis understood the meaning of that Sanskrit word and quotes Gandhiji in this book.

John Lewis also emphasizes what proper ethical methods can be used to bring about changes in the society. This includes faith in a just cause, patience in preparation and implementation, study of history and action. In his discussion on actions, he quotes (page 67) Mahatma Gandhi’s translation of Bhagavat Gita, the sacred text of the Vedic Hindu tradition. This is an important concept to grasp and therefore, I quote the actual passage: “ It is the action and not the fruits of action, that is important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that does not mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing there will be no result”.

John Lewis also educates us on how legislative process works – in essence how democracy works. It is a slow process and needs good preparation, patience, compromise, planning for variables and unexpected consequences. It is non-violent. It is the proper method for social change.

In summary, this is a “must read” book for everyone, particularly for young activists in any society.

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