During the 1940′s, India was being exploited by its colonial overlord, Britain, and was fed up. Tired of being servants in their own land, they chose a pious Hindu as their revolutionary leader but he did not take up arms. He believed in Ahimsa, the doctrine of non violence, a pillar of Hindu ethics. Ahimsa teaches that one should not knowingly generate any kind of unnecessary suffering to other living beings, one should not harm them or kill them for food and one should be kind to all.
Before Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, hostile groups were used to solving their conflicts through submission or conquest, including genocide, but Ghandi exhibited moral superiority. He would not fight the British and he would also not submit to them: he would instead use the boycott as a non-violent tactic to bring his enemy to its knees.
The British empire was based on economic exploitation. With no participation by the wage slaves, there was no incentive, no production and it was indeed costly to keep the empire.
This way independence was won, not without internal violence – in spite of Ghandi – but much bloodshed was spared. He encouraged peaceful relations between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians by inviting them to occupy the streets and pray together for independence and freedom following the tradition of Kabir, of Shirdi Sai Baba and others. He later created a secular state and abolished the caste system, believing only through secularism could sectarian violence be curbed.
Today, India is the largest democracy on Earth and the title Mahatma, or great soul, is reverently added to Ghandi’s name because he liberated India and inspired millions by exemplifying the doctrine of non-violence.
A generation later, the whole world knew of his feats and he was celebrated even on the other side of the globe. In Bahia, Brasil, a Ghandi brotherhood was created to promote peace and tolerance, and in the sixties another non-violent resistance movement spread: that led by Martin Luther King Jr. whose personal hero happened to be Ghandi. He fought segregation and racism through the exact same non violent tactics: there was a major boycott of all institutions and businesses that engaged in dehumanizing and racist practices.
Again, there was violence (and these two particular leaders were killed) but we must make note of a couple of things as we assess the history of the boycott as a revolutionary tactic for social change:
- that these revolutions could have been much more violent,
- and that both peaceful revolutions achieved their ultimate purpose: India got its independence and the U.S. got its Civil Rights Law enacted and was able to turn the page on an embarrassing chapter of its history.
We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. - a Yoruba proverb
Anyone that considers the huge amount of unnecessary human suffering that was avoided through this proud tradition, inevitably ends up agreeing that supporting the boycott was a moral imperative of those generations.
But what about today? Is it not time to reactivate our army of non-violent non-consumers? We should carefully study the theory and practice of non-violent resistance. What we’re facing today in the world is a financial crisis whose perpetrators are also vulnerable to the same tactic. It should be applied intelligently so that it affects those in power and give the poor, middle class, and working class a stronger standing in the economy and more control of our fiscal lives.
Since we have seen that the charismatic leaders of past boycotts have been martyred, it can also be said that Occupy provides an ideal platform for a boycott due to it being a leaderless movement. We all share the sacrifices that must be made, and no one leader is targeted. We are a legion, each one a minor leader of a leaderless global campaign of conscious consumers.
Having said that, we should not underestimate how difficult it would be to implement an efficient boycott. In A Month Without Monsanto, April Dávila demonstrates how difficult it is to avoid Monsanto’s genetically modified crops and provides some guidelines on how to facilitate a lifestyle that does not support cancer, monocultures, obesity, destruction of biodiversity and of local farms, suicide by Indian farmers, genetically modified and interspecies foods and the many other evils that plague our planet due to companies like Monsanto.
Like the banking industry, Monsanto has its tentacles almost everywhere and it’s truly intimidating how much control they already exert over all of our lives. We should produce our own food whenever practical and possible, or at least buy them locally and organically. Most localities have food coops where local farmers may easily sell their goods to local consumers. We should support these initiatives.
For many years I’ve been critical of the Dalai Lama, who preaches ahimsa also, but has never tried to implement a boycott against China in order to liberate Tibet. He probably fears for his people, who are defenseless against China’s huge military.
Recent news about pills made in China from human fetuses, plus stories about lead and other toxic substances that have been found in Chinese-made toys that American children play with, should have raised awareness of the many, very serious problems associated with products made in foreign countries. There are many reasons to support products made in the USA.
Would it be possible to organize a decentralized boycott efficiently through social media and alternative media outlets? Maybe, maybe not. We’re creatures of habit and new patterns of consumption take time to develop but there does seem to be a massive awakening happening and a long journey always begins with one step.