Americans will celebrate our nation’s independence today on the Fourth of July, marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, though many years of bloody fighting followed that declaration to gain our liberation from Britain.
Today I’m honoring the thread of the non-violent movement that has further secured independence from injustice and oppression around the world. Gandhi was a lawyer in South Africa when he first began using the non-violent methods to secure human right and social justice that eventually led to India’s independence from Britain in 1947.
Non-violence became the core practice taught by Martin Luther King, Jr. that helped secure civil rights for minorities in this country in 1964 and was integral to the leadership of Nelson Mandela, who served 27 years in prison protesting the racial oppression of apartheid in South Africa before his release in 1990 and winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Apartheid was abolished as the official policy of the South African government in 1994 and Mandela elected the first black president of his country; he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help South Africans dismantle apartheid without bitterness, recrimination or violence.
At the time of this posting, Mandela lies in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital at age almost 95. A few days ago, Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, visited Robbin Island where Mandela had spend 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment and wrote, ”
“On behalf of our family, we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robbin Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”– Barack Obama, July 1, 2013
Echoing sentiments spoken by Robert F. Kennedy when Mandela was first imprisoned:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
– Robert F. Kennedy, June 1966
Mandela himself said,
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
And…for to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
And…It always seems impossible until it’s done.
This week’s exercise: If you haven’t already, even if you have, watch the 2009 film “Invictus.” Morgan Freeman brilliantly portrays Nelson Mandela’s real-life efforts to use the 1995 World Cup rugby matches to unite whites and blacks in South Africa. A moving account of Mandela’s courage, wisdom and resilience.