Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12: A Profile in Courage.

The words "bravery," "courage" and "sacrifice" tend to get thrown around a little too loosely in our society.

But not in this man's case.

Today marks the eighty-first anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi's 241-mile march to the sea in protest of Britain's salt monopoly in India. Back then, before the Brits had introduced the world to John, Paul, George, Ringo, William and Harry, they made a nice name for themselves exploiting those who didn't live in towns ending in "-rshire" or "-ngton" or "-tford."

Not only did the English control the salt trade, a staple in the Indian economy, but they also imposed oppressive salt taxes on the population.

Enter Mohandas, that bald ball of fury. Beginning his journey with seventy-eight followers, he paused to address large crowds along the way to Dandi, a sea town where his end  game was to defy the British prohibition against extracting salt from sea water. By the time Gandhi had wrapped up his trek, he'd accumulated a few more friends than even Dorothy on her weekend getaway to Oz.

Tens of thousands of people trailed behind him.

Civil disobedience takes more courage then just about anything I can imagine. These people have not only stood up to authority and intentionally broken laws, but they've risked, and often lost, their lives.

Most of us aren't willing to gamble to those extremes, but many aren't afraid to spend a few sleepless nights on the cold marble floors of the Wisconsin capitol building. Some may not possess the fortitude to subject their bodies to the fire hoses of 1960s Alabama, but they're game to solicit some signatures on a rainy Sunday afternoon in front of Safeway.

More than anyone, I can learn from my own advice. In 2003, when George W. Bush stood in the Iraq War's on-deck circle, I dragged my eight-year-old daughter to a massive protest march through downtown Seattle. I really wanted her to experience our democracy at work, and felt pretty self-satisfied, even though it's hardly dangerous to join thousands of like-minded citizens of liberal Seattle for a nice afternoon walk with some signs.

That's why it's so hard to imaging really laying it out there. Don't get me wrong; I've been a protester.

When Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, decided to kill professional basketball in Seattle by selling the SuperSonics to an ownership group from Oklahoma City, I rebelled by boycotting Starbucks delicious molasses cookies and any drink larger than a grande.

I've sent back subs for being a meatball short.

I've yelled at more referees on television than you can imagine, and I've even booed a few umpires right there at the park...you know, if I'm sitting really far away.

When my "No Iraq War" sign was stolen out of our yard, I promptly headed back to the Unitarian Church for a new one, and re-planted it defiantly, this time in the back yard.

Seriously, my heart holds a special compartment for the Gandhis, the Martin Luther Kings, the Egyptian citizens, the Libyan rebels and everyone else who lays it all on the line.

I can only hope to attain a fraction of their courage.

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