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Welcome Mahatma Gandhi

October 2, 2016

The other day, I was walking through Central Park and saw a statue in wraps:
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I knew it was Davis’ new Mahatma Gandhi statue, but didn’t yet know what it looked like (besides looking like Gandhi).
Today, October 2 is Gandhi’s birthday (1869-1948). It is also the International Day of Nonviolence. And it’s the day our city chose to unveil and dedicate the statue.
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It was a nice day and a good turnout.
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There were a few dozen protestors, members of the Sikh community, most of whom came from Sacramento. They’d been present at various of the public discussions of the statue, so officials and police were prepared. They yelled and chanted pretty much throughout the entire ceremony.
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I needed to do a bit of research to understand why…
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi  was the preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Employing nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

Gandhi’s vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism, however, was challenged in the early 1940s by a new Muslim nationalism which was demanding a separate Muslim homeland carved out of India. Eventually, in August 1947, Britain granted independence, but the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two dominions, a Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan. As many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to promote religious harmony. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 at age 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest at point-blank range.

 

(From Wikipedia, thus all the links that don’t work here.)

Jim and I missed the beginning of the ceremony, but arrived as Mayor Robb Davis was addressing his comments in the direction of the protestors.
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Robb is not your average small town mayor who settles for a few perfunctory remarks…..
I would like to address my remarks to the statue.
Welcome to Davis, California Mr. Gandhi. That is “where” you are but I wonder if you know “when” you are—not the exact year (it is 2016) but the “when” in terms of the evolution of society and the evolution of the human heart.
Over the past generation mighty empires and smaller states have crumbled and splintered, leaving behind a growing tribalism and violence… and war that has become the background noise of our lives.
And within this nation, demographers tell us that we have nearly completed the successful physical “sorting” of ourselves into communities that are homogeneous in thought and ideology. We also sort ourselves “virtually” tuning out the views with which we do not agree and surrounding ourselves only with opinions we already hold.
And what of our hearts? In our age Nietzsche’s superman has met Rand’s Galt at the altar of hyper-consumption and that union has begat an offspring called narcissistic autonomy—a child that wills to be left alone to pursue personal peace and security. And we have accepted this child into our hearts. We have sought autonomy but have obtained only anomie.
Like sheep we have gone astray, each one turning to his or her own way.
And while we have not killed the God or the gods as Nietzsche’s madman suggested, we have certainly driven them out. We are abandoned to ourselves. But we still hear that voice—the same one that mythical Cain of old heard from the God after he had slaughtered his brother. That voice asked: “Cain, where is your brother?” 
The voice we hear asks us:
Where is your black brother?
Where is your immigrant sister?
Where is your refugee brother?
Where is your war oppressed sister?
But unlike Cain, who knowing his sin petulantly responded “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, we stand arms folded across our chests and boldly retort:
“I am NOT by brother’s keeper,  I am not my sister’s keeper.”
And like Cain, we find ourselves abandoned.
This is the “when” into which you have come Mr. Gandhi. 
And so we ask: Can you save us Mr. Gandhi?
Why have you come?
Who are you or perhaps more appropriately WHAT are you Mr. Gandhi?
Are you merely a symbol?
Currency in a patron/client exchange?
Brand India?
A god revered by some?
A scapegoat hated by others?
What will you do here Mr. Gandhi?
What will you do with them (gesture to protesters)? Will you dismiss them as a slice of nothing? As terrorists? Will you minimize them? Or will you approach them to engage them? To hear their stories even as they hurl their vitriol at you? Can you become their friend through the non-violent conflict resolution methods you taught?
So many questions… Despite them, we welcome you Mr. Gandhi.
We welcome you… but with some amount of fear.
Fear because it is not yet clear what we will do with YOU.
Will we hide behind you, to block out the conflict all around us, to shield our eyes from the violence all the while proclaiming we are peacemakers because, after all, we have our Gandhi statue? Will we ask you to shield us from the brokenness of our world? To merely check the box that says we have done our part for peace?
Or will we walk beside you like children, clutching your hand, hoping beyond hope that in some talismanic way you will cause the conflict to cease? Will we seek to derive a magical power from your presence, asking you to solve our conflicts because we feel incapable of doing so?
Or… will we walk before you to face the conflict born of our autonomy quest, our narcissism, our anomie? Will we engage it OURSELVES as peacemakers: turning the other cheek again, and again, and again—as you suggested we MUST—in order to move beyond the casual violence of neglect, to peace and reconciliation. May we find the strength to do the latter—to walk before you—thereby beginning the long process of putting an end to the “great turning away”—the great exclusion—so that we might rediscover human embrace.
Welcome to Davis Mr. Gandhi
Beautiful and challenging.
The protestors were quiet for his comments.
Most of the speakers  (that we saw) were respectful toward the protestors, acknowledged them, welcomed their presence, accepted their right to protest, and thanked them for being nonviolent.
In the end, it was stressful, but beautiful.
There were lots of proud Indian Americans..
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…and an inspired and grateful community.

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