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New Satyagraha Institute Taking Apps for August Nonviolence Workshop in Black Hills

I tell folks looking to make South Dakota truly progressive that they need to build their political organizing skills. But maybe we could all use some re-organization of our worldviews.

The new South Dakota-based Satyagraha Institute seeks to promote the promote the principles of Mohandes Gandhi, known as satyagraha:

Mohandas Gandhi, who famously experimented with the possibilities of nonviolence, coined the Sanskrit term satyagraha to identify a method of social change. Gandhi proposed that satya (truth) combined with agraha (firmness) creates a useful social power that does not rely on harming others. Gandhi often referred to this power as “truth-force.”

Satyagraha is an adherence to truth as it unfolds. Since many perspectives are necessary in order to see what is true, satyagraha offers a way to create change that recognizes both our incomplete understanding of any given situation and the wisdom that others have to share. It is a way of directly engaging with others to work out the difficult aspects of life without resorting to coercion, harm, or ill intention. Satyagraha is the social power which arises when we act with kindness, respect, patience, generosity, and service [Sayagraha Institute, home page, downloaded 2015.04.23].

Mohandes Gandhi
Mohandes Gandhi: good philosophy, good organizing, good taste in eyeglasses.

Putting truth-force into practice takes more than a couple paragraphs. Thus, the Satyagraha Institute is offering its first workshop this summer, August 4–18, at the Placerville Camp in the Black Hills. (Hmmm… folks learning non-violence in the Black Hills amidst the roar the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally… I see a metaphor, and an opportunity for reflection). For $700, you get two weeks of thoughtful study of Gandhi’s experience as well as “indigenous spirituality, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker movement, and other spiritual and cultural traditions.” Participants will interact with a diverse faculty:

  • M.P. Mathai, a well-known Gandhian scholar from India
  • Darlene Pipeboy, a Dakota elder and pipe keeper
  • Amelia Parker, Executive Director of Peace Brigades International
  • Priscilla Prutzman, Executive Director of Creative Response to Conflict
  • Clare Hanrahan, an author and organizer with the New South Network of War Resisters
  • Fernando Ferrara, founder Mesa de Paz in Mexico.

I would be intrigued to see how these two weeks of study of nonviolence, as well as engagement with the arts, community life (participants do “bread labor,” basic manual labor, as Gandhi practiced), and discussions about and meditation on inner life could affect the strategies and tactics of political leaders and the nature of our political discourse. But the Satyagraha Institute expects that participants “limit internet use, email, texting, and phone conversations as much as possible throughout the program.” I don’t know if bloggers could survive! (And while I’m thinking of it, I would love to contemplate what the Mahatma would think of blogging as a tool for nonviolent resistance.)

But if you are interested, check out the workshop Participants Page, then apply by June 28 for what should be an enlightening two weeks in the Black Hills.


  1. Bill Fleming 2015-04-23 15:15

    This looks like it would be great. I was a counselor at Placerville camp in my youth and we had similar discussions about non-violent resistance way back when (I must have been just over 20 years old at the time.) Seems like a time-honored tradition in that place. Maybe I’ll apply, if I’m not too old for it these days. :-) Just being in that place for two weeks would be worth the price of admission. It’s beautiful there.

  2. mike from iowa 2015-04-23 15:48

    Is there a right wing Gandhi? Couple weeks ago a group of black wingnut ministers awarded Aladamnbama Chief Justice of the Soopreme Court their version of the MLK Jr. Award. Roy Moore is the antithesis of MLK and should not be allowed to besmirch a real American hero’s name.

    Grudz-kiss my arse.

  3. grudznick 2015-04-23 16:05

    Mr. Mike, who is from Iowa, has probably never been out there by the lake named Pactola, north of the lake named for the great General Sheridan, but he suspects it is a bit of a squallor now and knows that my old bones could not live in such conditions. And he mocks me for it, he mocks me for he knows I am a big fan of Gandhi and wear the same style of spectacles at times. But mine are thicker.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-23 16:30

    Mike, I don’t know if right-wingery and satyagraha are compatible. Consider this text from a Satyagraha flyer on my desktop:

    The daily news reports no shortage of leaders who champion certainty, immediacy, and defensiveness. And we see no shortage of their essential tools: threat, coercion, and harm.

    I don’t know if you can be a right-winger without a commitment to a certain amount of certainty, defensiveness, threat, and coercion. I don’t want to insult the whole movement, but right-wingery seems based on an aggression, a machismo that runs counter to Gandhi’s philosophy and practice. Can anyone identify counterexamples to my hypothesis?

  5. Lynn 2015-04-23 16:54

    Will they allow open carry or CCW? This is South Dakota you know.

  6. Bill Fleming 2015-04-23 17:32

    Well, Cory, It is difficult for anyone to completely live up to Gandhi’s principles. (It was even difficult for him.) But in general, I don’t see any reason why a right-wing libertarian wouldn’t be able to embrace most of not all of the Mahatma’s ways of being and behaving:

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-23 17:41

    I don’t know, Bill. Non-possession and equality of all religions seem to pose problems for many of our right-wing friends. Removal of untouchability could also cause trouble, as so much right-wing rhetoric seems to involve us-vs-them portrayals of “others” whom we should punish and marginalize—immigrants, welfare recipients, leftists, atheists….

    How would Second Amendment absolutism fit with nonviolence?

  8. mike from iowa 2015-04-23 18:09

    Too bad no one informed Gandhi of the perils of “nukular” weapons. India seems to have their share.

  9. Carl Kline 2015-04-23 19:17

    Gandhi had something to say about the nuclear bomb. “And has not the atom bomb proved the futility of all violence? And yet we are crazy enough to think we can win Swaraj by breaking a few skulls and destroying property which, after all is said and done, is our own.” And again, “There have been cataclysmic changes m the world. Do I still adhere to my faith in truth and nonviolence? Has not the atom exploded that faith? Not only has it not done so but it has clearly demonstrated to me that the twins constitute the mightiest force in the world. Before it the atom bomb is of no effect. The two opposing forces are wholly different in kind the one moral and spiritual, the other physical and material. The one is infinitely superior to the other which by its very nature has an end. The force of the spirit is very progressive and endless. Its full expression makes it unconquerable in the world. In saying this I know that I have said nothing new. I merely bear witness to the fact. What is more, that force resides in everybody, man woman, and child, irrespective of the colour of the skin. Only in many it lies dormant, but it is capable of being awakened by judicious training.
    It is further observed that without the recognition of this truth and due effort to realise it, there is no escape from self-destruction. The remedy lies in every individual training himself for self-expression in every walk of life, irrespective of response by the neighbours.
    … You cannot successfully fight them with their own weapons. After all you cannot go beyond the atom bomb. Unless we can have a new way of fighting imperialism of all brands in place of the outworn one of a violent rising, there is no hope for the oppressed races of the earth.”

    And we can hardly hold one person responsible for the actions of a nation. India simply followed our lead.

  10. Bill Fleming 2015-04-23 20:55

    I’d be interested to discuss how Gandhi would propose handling the likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda. It’s important to note that non-violence only works if your opponant has a conscience, and that sometimes self-defense in the form of violence is unavoidable. Non-violence replaces aggression, but not necessarily defense.

  11. grudznick 2015-04-23 21:16

    Bill, I know you keep a little skiver there under the fancy cloth napkin on your right leg during breakfast. And you are wise to do so.

  12. Bill Fleming 2015-04-23 21:24

    grudznick, the image of you imagining what’s under the napkin in my lap gives me the heebie jeebies.

  13. Roger Cornelius 2015-04-23 22:11

    Brother Bill,
    Should America be included with ISIS and Al Qaeda in your question of how Gandhi would perceive them?

    Given the aggression that police departments have used in murdering unarmed black men and today’s report of killing an American Al Qaeda member and an aid worker during a drone raid in January it seems as though America itself has set the tone for Americans aggression and penchant for violence.

  14. Bill Fleming 2015-04-23 23:24

    Keep the faith, brother Roger. And people with signs singing in the streets. :-)

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-23 23:50

    I don’t know if I have the courage to be nonviolent. It boggles the mind.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-24 06:29

    “The courage to be non-violent”—indeed, Deb, it’s not easy to resist the impulse to answer violence with violence. That’s what Gandhi was saying in calling forgiveness “more manly than punishment.” You’ve got to be tough to respond to violence with calm, fellow-feeling, and love.

    Sometimes, as Bill notes with the extreme examples of ISIS and Al Qaeda, we ultimately cannot resist that impulse, because force may be the only effective and rational response to some threats. The article about Gandhi and guns that I linked in the comments above mentioned that Gandhi was not an absolutist on nonviolence: he said nonviolence was infinitely superior to violence, but the article said he recognized force might still be needed. But if Gandhi would counsel us toward such non-absolutism, we still face the challenge of figuring just how long we try nonviolence before we decide that it won’t work and that we face an enemy who can only be stopped with violence. Do we give outfits like ISIS and chance to prove they have a conscience? Do we organize a peaceful march across the Syrian desert of a thousand people with flowers in their hands to march up to ISIS HQ and politely demand an end to their violence and take the chance that ISIS will behead or enslave every protester?

    While I’m thinking of it, has there been any organized nonviolent resistance to ISIS?

  17. Bill Goehring 2015-04-24 08:34

    Looks like the Placerville UCC Church Camp of my youth is making great strides by trading TAR (TeenAge Republican) indoctrination for Ghandi-style methods of non-violent speech of truth to power, a mission much more in alignment with the progressive, social-activist roots of the church. Spreading the Good News, indeed!

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-24 17:09

    The Black Hills are good for everyone, Bill. I’d like to believe the Hills somehow tempered those TARs to appreciate the earth a little more. But maybe they just thought the mining was cool and all that timber was best harvested for profit.

  19. larry kurtz 2015-04-24 17:43

    vegetarian is lakota for lousy hunter.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-25 09:28

    Bill Fleming, that article is chock full of interesting reading. One big message of the article seems to be that effective nonviolent resistance comes from the locals, not from outside powers. Notice that ISIS gets a double dose of external power: our military interventions fuel the rage that helps them recruit new members… and they get their strength from violent people who emigrate from all over the world to Syria.

    It’s easier to wage that nonviolence outside the Islamic State, in the rest of the world where recruiting happens. The Pace e Bene article suggests that a part of the satyagraha anti-ISIS strategy is for families and communities to teach nonviolence to tamp down the violent urges among their youth that make them susceptible to ISIS recruitment. Similarly, communities and states must enact policies that recognize and enhance the dignity of all citizens, so that we can show potential recruits that nonviolent civil society can offer equality and opportunity that a violent regime cannot. (See elaboration on that theme in this Merriman & DuVall paper on dissolving terrorism at its roots linked in the article.)

    Pace e Bene acknowledges that some methods—locals not paying their taxes, setting alternative community groups to provide services, and striking at work—are “challenging” and should wait for “when the timing is right” in ISIS-held territory. They speak of unarmed civilian protection units… but we have to remember that ISIS kidnaps and beheads unarmed civilians.

    I struggle with nonviolent ideals because I still carry the Hollywood baggage of cowboy/Star Wars of fighting the bad guys with shootouts. Hmm… imagine how different (how boring?) Star Wars would have been if Obi-Wan had dismantled his light saber and counseled nonviolent resistance to the Empire. But that Merriman & Du Vall paper offers this interesting observation on fighting Darth Vader:

    In 20 of the 67 transitions from authoritarian rule covered in the study, violence was used at some point by political oppositions—but in only four of those nations do people have full political rights today. Yet, in 31 of the 47 nations where no opposition violence occurred during the transition, the people now enjoy full political rights [Hardy Merriman and Jack Du Vall, “Dissolving Terrorism at Its Roots,” in Ralph Summy and Senthil Ram (eds.), Nonviolence: An Alternative for Countering Global Terror(ism), Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2007].

    It may be hard to let that empirical evidence guide your actions when ISIS rules your town at the point fo a gun. But Gandhi didn’t say it would be easy.

  21. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-25 19:23

    MN is really getting focused on finding ways to stop ISIL recruitment here by replacing the turn to violence with something nonviolent. Generally what they’re focusing on is more integration into the community in all its facets. The East African elders and adults are leading the way on this. They are devastated by the children returning to the place of nightmare violence they escaped. Even though the real numbers of those joining terrorists is very small, it seems each one is a blow. From everything I’ve seen on the street, and I interact with Somalians, Eritreans, etc. every day, they really want to be good American citizens.

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