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On Satyagraha
by Jigar Champaneria

Satyagraha. Literally, it means persuasion through truth. It has come to mean much more in the years since Gandhi lead India to self-rule. In fact, the term has become a catch-all to describe the ways in which nonviolent movements, civil disobedience, and passive resistance can succeed. It has also become a term to look back with nostalgia on the momentous events that lead to India’s freedom. And, of course, it has become a term to be revered alongside the Mahatma himself.

However, it is the literal meaning of Satyagraha that we should be most concerned with today. Nostalgia and reverence are certainly important, especially on important days such as the anniversary of the Salt March. But, we cannot forever look back with fondness at those years. We must look at the world around us today; there are more than enough challenges to be taken on today.

It is time to look at the tools we have at hand to win change using the truth. Certainly marches and sit-ins are important galvanizing events on the path to nonviolent change. But it is not always possible to be part of such events “on the ground” Just as important as these gatherings is what we all have at our fingertips: Information. This issue of Samay has many references to the important of information. And it is no coincidence that information is the core to the first step of any Nonviolent Direct Action.

Moreover, gathering and disseminating information is something that is in all our grasps. It is not just the task of Government to give citizens access to important information. It is just as key for citizens to make sense of this information and tell others about it. Today there are so many ways of getting word out about issues. The power that we have at our fingertips is literally awesome. Indeed, free publishing tools have been given to anyone with an internet connection. In the past year, web logs (blogs, for short) have made their mark across the world. Millions of individuals have taken to their keyboards and published their opinions on a multitude of issues.

The most dedicated and enterprising of these bloggers have taken the information available to them and created movements with countless followers. Here in the US, Howard Dean made his mark on American Presidential campaigning with his innovative use of blogs. Bloggers with an investigative mindset have exposed misinformation in the way Government and Media are run and, in many cases, forced established groups to change their ways of operating. Individuals in war-torn countries have written about their experiences in the midst of gun-fire. Blogs have given us an insider’s view to political campaigning. They have given us unique viewpoints into lives on the other side of the world. They have given us access to facts about issues of the day.

The point here is clear: Electronic media have given to us a tool to organize on the basis of truth. In years past, it might have taken months and years and a network of thousands to organize a movement for change. Now, those movements can be organized in a matter of days and weeks. And the network? Rather than being forced to publicize our movement, the internet makes it easier for people to find us. The networks build themselves and are ever expanding.

This is not about an infatuation with the latest digital technology. This is about making use of the power that we all have and creating something so much bigger. Of course, movements still need real-world meetings and marches, but the digital world can help to ensure that the first step of Nonviolent Direct Action is successful. For it is on the Truth which all successful movements are based. Persuading others to that Truth can be made much easier with tools such as web logs.

Grassroots does not always mean walking in the dirt. Just as important as the village worker is the person who coordinates those efforts and disseminates the facts about the accomplishments of that villager worker. Gandhi used his newsletter, Young India, to share his daily experiences during the Salt March and throughout his life. Just as Gandhi’s newsletter was a unique tool to build a groundswell of support for a Free India, we must take advantage of what we have at our hands. It is a power for Truth and persuasion with all of us. And that is what Satyagraha means to us today.