October 2nd is a national holiday in India commemorating the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. It may have another designation soon, as Indian business, government and nonprofit leaders recently signed a petition to President Pranab Mukherjee to establish October 2nd as "National Volunteering Day". These leaders recognize that India’s future depends on volunteers, whose time, minds and muscles can speed the pace of development in their country of more than one billion people.
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with developing the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience and spent much of his life fighting discrimination and injustice. He used this approach to organize protests and other forms of activism that led to India’s independence from Great Britain and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
It is appropriate that National Volunteering Day in India fall on Gandhi’s birthday, because I think that volunteering, while not usually considered an act of civil disobedience, is a form of social protest. By seeking to improve conditions, volunteers are protesting the way things are. Volunteers aim to address inequality and improve access for all to a good life, by filling gaps in “the system,” and in some cases, by advocating for change in policies. For example, in the U.S. and other countries, volunteer readers, tutors and mentors help kids stay in school and lead better lives. VITA volunteers help people who may not have the knowledge or skills to claim the money they are owed. Volunteers plant community gardens and teach local residents how to tend and harvest them, meeting a need for healthy foods in communities. United Ways coordinate these and other volunteer activities on Day of Action and throughout the year to meet needs, yes, and to shine a light on things that may not be working.
We don’t all have to be Mahatma Gandhi to make a difference, but we do need more people to advance the common good. What do you think? Is volunteering a form of social protest? What will you do on October 2 to make a peaceful protest against something that needs fixing in your community?