Egypt, CÈsar Ch·vez and Nonviolence

The most impressive aspect of the Egyptian uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak is its nonviolent nature. What violence that did occur came from the goon squads in support of the now-fallen dictator.

It was remarkable how the Egyptian people reflected the power of nonviolence. It was like watching Gandhi and his nonviolent movement that achieved independence for India in the post-World War II period.

But it also resonated with me the nonviolence of César Chávez, who, influenced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, used nonviolence to accomplish what had never successfully been done: organize farm workers into a union.

The very week the Egyptian people toppled Mubarak, my undergraduate seminar at the University of California Santa Barbara was reading my edited book, The Gospel of César Chávez: My Faith In Action. Chávez is one of the major spiritual leaders in the United States in the 20th century. You cannot understand Chávez without knowing the importance of faith to him.

The book contains Chávez's reflections on a variety of spiritual topics that underscores how deeply religious and spiritual he was. Included are Chávez's meditations on abuelita theology (the spiritual influence of his grandmother and mother on him), the power of faith, human dignity, the poor, self-sacrifice, social justice, pilgrimage and fasting. But the largest section is on nonviolence and the power of nonviolence.

For Chávez, as for Gandhi and King, nonviolence was not just a strategy -- it was a philosophy of life.

As humanists, they believed in the sanctity of life; therefore, you do not do injury to someone's life. At the same time, for Chávez, Gandhi and King, nonviolence was and is not passive.

Chávez used the term "militant nonviolence" to indicate that nonviolence also means organizing and struggling for one's goals and principles. In Chávez's case, it was the struggle to achieve dignity and justice for the farm workers. This is what the Egyptians did; they used militant nonviolence.

Here are some of Chávez's reflections on nonviolence to put further perspective to the historical events witnessed in Egypt.

"I am not a nonviolent man. I am a violent man who is trying to be nonviolent."

"People equate nonviolence with inaction -- with not doing anything -- and it's not that at all. It's exactly the opposite."

"Through nonviolent action in this nation and across the world social justice can be gotten."

"You reap what you sow; if we become violent with others, then we will become violent among ourselves. Social justice for the dignity of man [people] cannot be won at the price of human life."

"Nonviolence is more powerful than violence. We are convinced that nonviolence supports you if you have a just and moral cause. Nonviolence gives the opportunity to stay on the offensive, which is of vital importance to win any contest."

"True nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness."

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