More than perhaps anyone else in history, Mohandas Gandhi became known for bringing the idea of nonviolence to the consciousness of the world. He also gave us a glimpse into some of what can be accomplished by adopting it in the field of political action. It's therefore only fitting that the name of this organization, dedicated to promoting the Gandhian method of social change, harken back to India, where it all began. In Sanskrit, Hindi, and other languages of the Indian subcontinent, the word lokashakti (low-kah-SHAHK-tee) means "power of the people". Shakti is usually translated in English as "power", "energy", or "strength", and among the various meanings of loka, one often seen is "people". Taken together they become a concept most effectively put forward by Gandhian activist and scholar Vinoba Bhave in 1953. He explains:
"The power of the people (loka-shakti) is the opposite of the power of violence (himsa-shakti), and though there is no such trenchant opposition between the power of the people and the power of the State (danda-shakti), yet the two are different. There is of course an element of violence in the power of the State too, but inasmuch as this power has been entrusted to the State by the people, its character differs from that of naked violence and the two cannot be put together in the same class. We however intend to go further ahead of it and create conditions which will do away with the need to use even the power of the State. Then only could it be said of us that we have realized our essential duty and done it."
- From Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan Yajna, p. 86 (translated from the original Hindi by Bharatan Kumarappa)
While making it clear that the "power of the people" is completely incompatible with violent means, it becomes quickly apparent that this explanation by Vinoba does something more. It goes beyond the negative definition of nonviolence as the mere absence or negation of violence, and hints at the power of lokashakti to offer a viable, positive alternative to the way in which society is currently conceived. In the vein of Thomas Jefferson, and later Henry David Thoreau, the idea behind lokashakti is that people do best when most able to govern themselves. Approaching the ideal of anarchism (or perhaps more accurately stated, democracy in its purest form), lokashakti builds on the fact that true power in society always rests with the people and flows from the bottom up, instead of either from the top down, or from the barrel of a gun.
The closer we all want to get towards a society based on nonviolence and participatory government, the more we'll come to realize that lokashakti is inevitable. To do away with the violence of those we've put in power, we first need to internalize that if not for our support, those "in power" would be completely powerless. Under the current system, lokashakti provides a check for when the power we've given them is being abused. To establish nonviolence as a central principle in government it again has a leading role to play, serving to organize society around a realistic alternative to the State's so-called legitimate monopoly on violence and the threat of coercive force.
Similarly, if we want people to have a voice, what we need is for them to recognize and learn to express the one they already have, giving rise to the power that lies within each one of us — a power which, when used in concert with that of others, becomes indestructible. In this way lokashakti doubles as both ends and means, just as we regard water in a mountain stream as inseparable from that in the lake to which it leads. As Gandhi always tried to stress, the means are in fact the ends in the making; in other words, only pure a pure mountain stream could possibly lead to our goal of an entirely pure lake.
To learn more about lokashakti, take a look at the five guiding principles we've established to make sure that the idea, and the organization, are always leading in the right direction. If you'd enjoy knowing more about how we arrived at the name, click here.