This month, many among the South Asian community will reflect on their homeland on Republic Day, a date commemorating the creation of the Constitution of India in 1950. That achievement followed the nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience campaigns guided by Mahatma Gandhi that led to India’s independence.
Likewise, January is a time when Americans’ consider the remarkable life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (who took inspiration from Gandhi’s success) and observe the birthday of the civil rights leader with a federal holiday. Austin’s MLK Day celebration has seen an increase in participation for years—people from every walk of life and ethnic background march in solidarity—no doubt a positive sign of where the city is headed.
Watching Austin’s South Asian demographic grow and flourish over the past decade has been satisfying, particularly because it has brought to the fore the spirit of Gandhi. So it’s with great admiration that we feature Republic Day and the Great Soul on the cover of TODO Austin this month.
I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Les Kurtz, one of the preeminent Gandhi scholars in the world, a short time before TODO Austin launched. I learned to appreciate how Gandhi used mass communication, publishing several papers in his lifetime, to spread his ideology of peaceful social change and unite the community. A journal was the spark, as it has been many times throughout history, for revolution.
This paper was created eight years ago by graphic designer Dave McClinton and myself after some deliberation on its focus: social change. We hoped that TODO Austin would serve in some small way as a vehicle for advocacy in the city. Since that time, we’ve picked our causes and organizations we supported carefully and built editorial guidelines around that.
In some ways, Gandhi’s reliance on the power of the printed word reminded me of the ideology driving local community newspapers and alternative press. The founders of the Austin Chronicle, as I recall from my youth in the 1980s, were idealists who had the courage and talent to help build Austin’s identity. I still see traces of Gandhi’s and MLK’s principles in its pages and believe that’s chiefly due to the influence of publisher Nick Barbaro and editor Louis Black. These two men encouraged my career in advocacy journalism, as they have many others. It was through Louis, in fact, that I met Dave (like me, a former Chronicle contributor) and thus this paper came into being.
In 2016, TODO Austin will surely examine more signs of injustice, discrimination, segregation and racism around Austin. Last year, while a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was being removed from UT’s West Mall, we saw the shooting of an unarmed black man by an Austin police detective whose charge of manslaughter was later dismissed. Will Austin again be shamed with a disgrace such as being named the most economically segregated metro area in the country?
Where MLK and Gandhi led the way, none were excluded. Have a happy Republic Day and MLK Day this month.