Let Gandhi come in peace

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

We wel­come the pro­posal to erect a bronze of Mo­han­das Gandhi in Zilker Park. Af­ter all, Austin is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more di­verse. And there is no rea­son why the city’s art in pub­lic places should not re­flect the cul­tures of Austin’s fastest-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion by per­cent­age — Asians. They make up 6 per­cent of Austin’s pop­u­la­tion, with 73,375 peo­ple liv­ing within the city lim­its.

But even if Austin’s Asian pop­u­la­tion was not ex­plod­ing, it still would be apro­pos to cre­ate a place of honor for Gandhi, a po­lit­i­cal and spir­i­tual leader of In­dia known world­wide as Ma­hatma be­cause of his wide­spread in­flu­ence. Gandhi is widely rec­og­nized as the ar­chi­tect of a move­ment that em­ploys mass civil dis­obe­di­ence to re­sist in­jus­tice and tyranny. That method helped In­dia gain its in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish, and it in­flu­enced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his suc­cess­ful non­vi­o­lent cam­paign to ob­tain full cit­i­zen­ship rights for Amer­i­can blacks. South African free­dom fighter Nel­son Man­dela also re­lied on Gandhi’s non­vi­o­lent meth­ods to lib­er­ate blacks from apartheid.

Amer­i­can-States­man writer Juan Castillo re­ported in Mon­day’s edi­tions that Aus- tin res­i­dent Ne­hal Sang­havi is lead­ing an ini­tia­tive to win ap­proval from the board of the city’s Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment and the City Coun­cil to erect a bronze of Gandhi in Zilker Park. Sup­port­ers al­ready have se­cured fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments for the $35,000 cost to de­sign and build the statue.

Cen­trally sit­u­ated, Zilker Park is an ideal set­ting, with its scenic and peace­ful vis­tas and gar­dens, in­clud­ing the Zilker Botan­i­cal Gar­den and Taniguchi Ori­en­tal Gar­den.

Though we can see lit­tle down­side to adding Gandhi to the city’s grow­ing in­ven­tory of art in pub­lic places, there is re­sis­tance crop­ping up in blogs, some of which por­tray xeno­pho­bic at­ti­tudes un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of the gen­eral Austin pub­lic. But some com­ments that com­plain that Austin has not done enough to in­cor­po­rate more of its his­tor­i­cal and no­table fig­ures and events into its art in pub­lic places are le­git­i­mate cri­tique.

Austin’s in­ven­tory of bronzes of no­table peo­ple in­clude Texas con­gress­woman Bar­bara Jor­dan, mu­si­cian Ste­vie Ray Vaughan and An­gelina Eberly, who in the 1842 helped pre­serve Austin as the cap­i­tal of Texas by fir­ing a 6-pound can­non into the Gen­eral Land Of­fice to awaken a sleep­ing town that the archives of the Re­pub­lic were be­ing se­cretly re­moved to Hous­ton.

We all should work to en­hance art in pub­lic places and add to the story of Austin and Texas. But that should not take away from the cam­paign to raise a Gandhi bronze in Zilker Park.

That cam­paign cor­re­sponds with an­other good idea by sup­port­ers of the statue who are plan­ning for an an­nual day of ser­vice in Austin to be held on Oct. 2, the birth­day of Gandhi, who was as­sas­si­nated in 1948.

The day of ser­vice, called Be the Change Day, will be pat­terned af­ter tra­di­tional ob­ser­vances in In­dia, where the date is a na­tional hol­i­day and day of ser­vice.

But Austin can and should make that day unique to the city, with a call res­i­dents to get in­volved and fo­cus on com­mu­nity ser­vice projects — neigh­bor­hood and parks cleanups, vol­un­teer­ing at nurs­ing homes or food banks, de­liv­er­ing meals to se­niors, clean­ing up city parks, get­ting in­volved with neigh­bor­hood watch crime pre­ven­tion ef­forts or any other ser­vice project that ben­e­fits the com­mu­nity.

There is room for Gandhi in Austin and for change that lifts our com­mu­nity

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