Gandhi in a Bar
by Ruth Ann Angus // Coordinator of the Nonviolent Cities Project in Morro Bay, CA and with Yes We Can Peacebuilders
It was an unusual location for a nonviolence discussion group, a bar on the Embarcadero of a seaside town, but the space was available, and the organizers thought having a little wine for everyone might help loosen their tongues and bring out their angst. They weren’t all that sure how it would be received by the regular patrons of the bar.
Thus it was that 15 men and women interested in forming a better world gathered on a blustery evening at the Wine Seller on the harbor walkway and sat on low couches in a section separated from the main bar. A little music played over the address system as the group settled, some with a glass of Pinot or House Red, some with Chardonnay. The topic for the evening was Gandhian nonviolence.
What could the study of Gandhi’s vision of nonviolence do for these folks who were struggling with a government they didn’t understand anymore? “Oh, I am just so frustrated!” exclaimed one woman, “One by one our freedoms are being taken away and I despair over what it is going to take to put things right again after this administration is gone. How can Gandhi help us?”
How indeed? Gandhi lived in a different time and a different place, but it is eerie how similar the situations he faced are the same for us today—issues of race, poverty, economic injustice, environmental destruction, government domination, and war.
Moderators of the group discussion handed out descriptions of violence with the idea that an understanding of the different types of violence would help trigger the realization that nonviolence is the only answer.
Gandhi said nonviolence means avoiding injury to anything on earth, in thought, word, or deed. He didn’t mean just renouncing physical violence such as murder or war but rejecting that inner violence that we all have. Gandhi wants us to practice love towards our oppressors even as we pursue justice.
“So how do we pursue justice?” a person asked.
The moderator explained that Gandhi says, “If you really mean to give up violence, you will say, we shall have nothing to do with the spoils of violence. You will then be qualified to offer a spotless sacrifice. It is much more difficult to live for nonviolence than to die for it.”
The explanation was overheard by one man sitting at the bar. He picked up his drink and ambled over to the group taking a seat behind the moderator. The discussion continued as to how one would behave if challenged by an oppressor. “Nonviolence calls for resistance rather than submission, even unto death,” explained the moderator. “Gandhi says ‘Destruction is not the law of humans. Humans live freely by their readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of a brother, never by killing another.’”
Suddenly two more people left their bar stools and came over and sat among the group. The first gentleman from the bar spoke up, “Do you mean we have to die to be nonviolent? Wouldn’t that be suicide?” he asked. Now the group was enlivened. Everyone had something to say even the two who had left their seats at the bar.
Someone turned off the music as several more bar patrons turned on their bar stools to face the group and listen. What was happening? Was Gandhi and the principle of nonviolence holding court in a seaside bar?
Organizers of nonviolence groups are up against a lot of competition these days for the attention of the public so branching out to unconventional venues may be a good choice. One wonders whether Gandhi would have chosen a bar for a discussion of nonviolence. However, constantly preaching to the choir is not advancing the concept and violence is rampant in society.
Protest marches for one cause or another have increased recently and while they engage the public for a day or two, they are soon forgotten as everyone returns to their everyday pursuits and concentration with their cell phones. Maybe Gandhi in a bar isn’t such a bad idea!
How will the world change? Is it to be war and revolution? Gandhi says, “The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on nonviolence. That is the first law. Out of it, all other blessings will flow. It may seem a distant goal, an impractical Utopia. But it is not in the least unattainable.”
Gandhi in a nonviolence discussion group in a bar may possibly be a first held in a way to reach the disenchanted, but if it works, “raise your glass to it!”