Monday, October 03, 2011

Gandhi's Legacy

Yesterday was Mohandas Gandhi's birthday. A brilliant man who was also a stunningly capable leader, two things that do not often get combined, much less come together at the right place at the right time. Now, though, it seems that Gandhi is simply a caricature, an icon for "smart and nice."

Is there more to the cultural meaning of Gandhi? Is non-violent protest really now a part of our collective consciousness? You look at the difference between the way the Tea Party has been treated by the mainstream media and the folks occupying Wall Street and you have to wonder. The Tea Party movement has always had an undertone of violence, that "if we don't get our way we could take up arms at any moment" sentiment. They made sure to carry weapons openly on national park land just to be provocative. Many signs made reference to watering the tree of liberty with blood. Their mouth pieces, like Glenn Beck, made liberal use of violent rhetoric. And they were babied by the mainstream media. Events that were billed as major gatherings that only attracted dozens were treated as cultural watersheds. Yet, where the Tea Party is a corporate sponsored astroturf movement, on Wall Street you have a growing collection of people who spontaneously are brought together to call attention to the actual plight of suffering Americans who are being preyed upon by an unjust system that is biased to the wealthy and powerful. Yet, you have a virtual blackout in the mainstream press about it and where you do see any coverage, it tends to be eye rolling condescension. This is no different from the anti-war protests before the invasion of Iraq. Millions of people in the streets across the globe all treated with a dismissive hand wave.

We love to put Gandhi bumper stickers on our cars and talk about how we are all Martin Luther King, Jr. now. But have these non-violent leaders really left us anything cultural that is lasting or have they been co-opted by those they were leading us against and turned into cartoon characters that cease to threaten the powerful?