Let Gandhi come in peace
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