As we dig into the long, uncertain effort to defend our basic values, each other’s liberty and well-being, and our constitutional democracy, it helps to reflect on others confronted who made such efforts in their times and places. No person is perfect, but some women and men have forged tactics that ultimately helped roll back oppression. M.K. Gandhi is the example I’m considering today.
Gandhi and others started the fight for Indian independence decades before it came to pass. In 1930, India’s Congress Party issued the Purna Swaraj, India’s Declaration of Independence. In contrast to the events that followed the American Declaration of Independence, Gandhi wanted to fulfill the demands of India’s declaration nonviolently. Toward that end he organized the Salt March to Dandi.
Gandhi chose to mobilize people through an economic and political statement that people could understand across regional, class, ethnic, and other boundaries. He attacked the British monopoly and taxation of salt. Salt was not scarce in India. Occurring throughout low-lying coastal zones of India, salt was readily accessible, but the British government forced everybody pay money for a mineral which they could easily collect themselves for free. Gandhi Leads the Salt March, 1930. Historic World Events. Detroit: Gale, 2012. World History in Context. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
It was illegal for Indians to make salt; indeed the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense punishable by law. Gandhi, at age 61, led a procession of marchers, who walked over 200 miles, to the coast, where Gandhi made salt from seawater.
The salt campaign, kicked off with Gandhi’s 25-day trek, continued for another two months. The British ignored Gandhi’s breach of the law at first, but, when he informed the Viceroy of his intention to raid the nearby Dharsana Salt Works, he and all the Congress leaders were arrested. Gandhi was imprisoned for eight months under the terms of a law dating back to 1827, which did not require a trial or sentencing. He was released on January 26, 1931. Gandhi Leads the Salt March, 1930. Historic World Events. Detroit: Gale, 2012. World History in Context. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
Indian Independence was not achieved for another seventeen years, in 1947. But the Salt March galvanized people across the country, powered the textile boycott that undermined British rule in India.
What does this have to do with progressivism now, particularly progressivism in America today, just after the election of Donald Trump and a right wing Republican majority in Congress? We must salt march. We must use economic mass mobilization to activate progressives everywhere. Some such efforts are already in place as people have organized to boycott retailers who sell Ivanka Trump brand merchandise as well as purveyors of Donald J. Trump brand items. Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) sparked this movement on Twitter under the banner of #GrabYourWallet. Today, one retailer, Shoes.com, announced its decision to drop the Ivanka Trump line.
That’s one small point for our now small salt march. More significantly, across social media, we are showing how to salt march, how to change our shopping habits, re-envisioning our economic relationships with retailers who benefit from doing business with the Trumps, and sharing information with one another. We are thereby beginning a larger salt march of our own.