Independence Day Reflection


In February 1993, I read the book, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings And Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a momentous occasion because it prompted my journey on learning about Gandhi’s philosophy and method of nonviolence, coupled with Dr. King’s melding of Gandhian nonviolence with the Christian witness. I quickly became convinced, as Dr. King did in the 1950s, that only by embracing the philosophy and method of Gandhian nonviolence could we change the fate of our nation and begin the process of transforming the United States into an actual democracy with liberty, equality, and justice for all people.

Two hundred and seventeen years earlier, in 1776, the leaders within this nation’s thirteen colonies signed their names to a guiding principle that represented the culmination of what they believed was both the finest religious wisdom of the human race and the finest philosophical wisdom of the human race: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

That statement grew out of the formation of a radical new philosophy in a world that was largely dominated by top-down rulers like kings, queens, monarchs, feudal lords, and emperors. It was a world that was largely dominated by the oppression of poor people, women, and indigenous peoples. It was a world dominated by the notion that ordinary people did not actually matter and should not have a role in choosing their own destinies.

Although this document certainly did not grant equal autonomy to all, but it laid a new foundation towards that ideal.

Most U.S. citizens are unaware of the fact that this guiding principle was the product of religious and philosophical wisdom dating back six millennia. It had been worked on and debated by philosophers for nearly a hundred years (1685–1775) and shaped into the most revolutionary moment in human history because it declared we are not a people formed by creation for the purposes of tyranny and oppression. Rather, we are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, and we, the ordinary people of the world, have the capacity to govern ourselves. We have the capacity and the common sense to be able to shape and form a society where there is real access for everyone.

As a result of that one hundred years of debate came a brilliant idea: We should form a new nation where there is equality, liberty, and justice for all. A new kind of empire composed of willing members in which every baby born has equal access to the things necessary for life. A new kind of government where every person, regardless of background, will be provided with the socio-political echo space that will allow them to tap into and experience the gift of life to its fullest and to contribute, not only to their own personal wellbeing but to the well-being of all.

Of course, the problem was (and still is) that most Americans did not understand their own guiding principles—and worse, did not accept them. The American people did not (and still do not) understand or accept their own stated principles because our history over (at least) the past 500 years has been a history where dark forces of ill intent have helped shape our minds, hearts, and attitudes. These dark forces are specifically racism, sexism, violence, and plantation capitalism. All four of these demonic forces diminish the dignity of the human person, and permit structures of oppression to emerge that deprive millions of people, even today, of their right to equality, liberty, and justice.

It must be understood that there is no way we can exorcise the demonic forces of racism from our land if we do not exorcise the demonic force of sexism as well. There is no way that we can exorcise the demonic forces of violence and injustice from our land if we do not exorcise the demonic force of plantation capitalism and transform our economy into one of genuine opportunity for every man, woman, and child in our nation. Furthermore, there is no way we can exorcise any of these evils without adopting and implementing Gandhi’s philosophy and method of nonviolence as a devoted lifestyle.

The nonviolent philosophy has a simple first step—which squares well with the principles of democracy—it encourages ordinary people to assume their inherent authority to change their world. This is the meaning behind Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and Fannie Lou Hamer’s conviction that ordinary people have the power and authority to forge a society, and a world, that has the common good as its foundation. The only way this can happen is through nonviolent struggle against the forces of racism, sexism, violence, and plantation capitalism.

I am not speaking of nonviolence as “anti-violence.” I am not speaking of nonviolence as “violence prevention”—although that also is important. I am talking about the fact that our nation, the United States of America, is a nation embedded with, trapped in, and addicted to violence.

We seem to believe that through violence we can become the people God wants us to be; that violence will somehow produce the kinds of changes we want to see in the world; that violence is the way to make people and the world better. Our national love affair with guns is merely a symptom of this pathological disease. The fruits of this addiction are devastating.

To illustrate my point, look at the situation between Israel and Palestine. Israel and Palestine have been engaged in violent struggle for 75 years. For three-quarters of a century the Israelis and the Palestinians have thought that violence could help them become what God wants them to be. When you have tried violence and hatred and division for nearly a hundred years, when billions of dollars from Europe and the United States have poured in to fuel that violence and you have not been able to end hostilities or improve the well-being of your own people, when do you stop and ask the question, “Is there something we are not doing that is essential to bringing about change and lasting peace?”

Racism, sexism, violence, and plantation capitalism do not lead to peace, justice, and the beloved community. On the contrary, they are diametrically opposed to it.

Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence says that the greatest force in the universe is the life force that exists inside each person. The force of life that is within each person is living energy—it is love, truth, and beauty. Nonviolence uses that life force for personal and social change. By living nonviolence you tap into what Gandhi called “A force more powerful” against which the forces of evil (present in everyone) cannot prevail.

The problems have not been resolved nor has healing taken place. Moreover, we are not even close to tapping our full human potential.

In the twenty-first century, we need direct action campaigns and massive protest movements motivated by love and compassion—as Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is love. Nonviolence is Truth. Nonviolence is soul force.” Right now we need worldwide campaigns and movements based on nonviolence. Our nation, and our world, must be changed if our species is going to survive. Nonviolence is how we effect personal, social, economic, and political change that will be inclusive and holistic.

In all our strivings, we must understand that no matter how much witnessing we may do or how many good works we may perform, if real equality, liberty, and justice for all are to emerge in our nation, each of us must learn to embrace Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. We, as a nation, must come to understand that nonviolence is not the end we seek in some distant future, but the means by which we arrive at that end. This means that we must come together with family, friends, neighbors, and community organizations and study the philosophy of nonviolence, its effectiveness in political struggles and campaigns to overcome evil, and help change our national inclinations towards violence and oppression. Consider this: If the hundreds of billions of dollars in technology and resources that our nation has put into violent struggles over the last 50 years were dedicated to feeding the world’s poor, think what a vastly superior, and nobler, nation we would be.

As a person living in this nation, it is okay to appreciate the country we live in. However, it is possible—and possibly a prerequisite—to also honestly acknowledge the terrible and horrifying pathologies that have plagued our national history—pathologies that have metastasized into a cancer that is literally killing this country. To improve it and make it into the nation that was declared in its founding documents is the duty of every person who considers herself or himself patriotic.

With this in mind, should we not devote our lives to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy and method of nonviolence to help create a nation (and world) that has yet to exist? Only by embracing the power of Gandhian nonviolence can the United States exist with true equality, liberty, and justice for all.

Joshua Flaugher is a Los Angeles Catholic Worker community member.

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1 comment

    • MARY SINGAUS on June 13, 2022 at 9:36 am
    • Reply

    Hi, Joshua!
    In thie paragraph beginning with “To illustrate my point, look at the situation between Israel and Palestine…”
    you may want to know the Palestinians are working and have been working non violently since before you were born probably…They are reading and studying and practicing the theories you describe. In fact, that is why I went on a delegation to Palestine in 2009 (Oct/Nov) with the Interfaith Peacebuilders now EyeWitness Palestine they are preparing for a delegation(s) if you are interested…
    Also, IF you, LA Catholic Worker want to attend any of these delegations, I am willing to help pay the cost..
    Jeff and Catherine know me…so you can check me out with them…

    Just so you kow, I think you do not understand that the Palestinians are reisiting non violently and you seem to believe the propaganda they are sooooo violent like the Israelis…

    All the best, Mary

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