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Peace – Being Well-Used

This blog explores the interplay among resistance, peace and love for social activism – or simply trying to make some positive difference in the world.  My last post was about resistance and I promised that the next post would be about peace – after which I totally crapped out.  It has now been two months and I have written nothing about peace.  I think it’s partly a general sinking I have experienced in these two months about social activism – and partly an overwhelm with the topic.  Peace is just such a big deal, even in a more limited application to social action.

But there has lately surfaced for me more clarity about my own activist path – and out of that has come one window around peace and social justice.  Just one window among what I’m sure are many ways that peace applies here – enough to keep me writing for a good long while – but a window that to me is feeling very significant, very meaningful.

One way we can experience peace around our social activism efforts is when we feel that we are being well-used.  Our talents are right for making a difference.  We are in the right place at the right time – and we are the right person for the job.

After the November election, I sank into the same depression as so many progressive people.  Finally, on Monday, January 30, an email came across my inbox from MoveOn – a progressive group with which I had done some canvassing during the presidential campaign and which I like.   They were organizing a national effort called “Resist Trump Tuesdays” in which on many successive Tuesdays you would gather outside of your U.S. senator’s office to protest the Trump agenda: “NO BAN, NO WALL”, “PROTECT OUR HEALTH CARE”, “INVESTIGATE TRUMP/PUTIN” etc.  This effort felt right to me and I started to wake from my post-election depressive sleep.  There was a rally listed for downtown Asheville the next day at the Federal Building outside of Republican Senator Burr’s office – even though he is never there, never comes to Asheville – and I decided to go, and instantly felt a lot better.

don't give up - amanda
Amanda was one of our most reliable rally people. Her friend Russ made this Resist graphic.

Because I was at the rally early, I got to hear Susan, who had organized it, vent: “I’m not the right person for this. I don’t have the temperament or the skill set.  I did it just because I didn’t want to go to Hendersonville” (an hour away, the next closest senator’s office).  On the spot, I started to think: “I do have a lot of the skill set – I practiced organization development in corporations and am a good organizer.  I’ve been a professional coach and know how encourage and motivate people.  I’m a good public speaker.”  (Little did I know that my very lack of the necessary mobilizing skills would limit my effectiveness in this project.)

I told Susan I would be glad to take over, if she would pass along to me what she had learned in the process of organizing this rally.  She was thrilled.  It was clear to me then and since that she had let herself be well-used: she heroically – in the face of in many ways not being fit for the job – played the role she was meant to play.  She got the thing off the ground.

The early weeks of Asheville Resist Trump Tuesdays were kind of thrilling.  flag - twinsWe had a lot of people come out and they were really happy to be there, wanted an outlet for their upset about what was going on in Washington.  People came out with wonderful signs.  Cars passing by would beep their horns and give us a thumbs up – way more than those who would swear at us and give us the finger.  The third Tuesday we had 100 people and made the TV evening news.what democracy looks like - Anna

I was totally pumped.  I really thought I was the right person in the right place.  I registered each rally with MoveOn, so people could find them on the MoveOn database. I created a Facebook page.  I assiduously got everybody’s email addresses and sent out an email update every week.  I took lots of photos to put on the Facebook page and hopefully encourage people.  I created little informal business cards and handed them out around the community, including at work where there was some risk in doing so.  I dialed into the MoveOn support conference calls every Sunday night, which I found very informative and motivational, and took lots of notes on the calls.  I started to write this blog.

That 100 person turnout was our peak.  The next week there were 45 people, then 25, then 14.  Some of us would have conversations about why our numbers were falling off.  Maybe people were bored with the format of just waving signs.  We borrowed a bullhorn and tried having speeches.  The word was that the Hendersonville rallies were drawing hundreds of people, even though Hendersonville is a smaller community and more conservative.  What were we doing wrong?  I couldn’t shake a growing question of what was I doing wrong?

When we had shrank to six people, I very sincerely asked them if it was time to pull the plug – and each of them emphatically said they didn’t want to do that, that they wanted this, needed it.  So I got excited and once more threw everything at it. The next week we had three people – and I did pull the plug.

For a few weeks, I stopped all activist activities.  An associate who I think was angry at me for not living up to her activist expectations of me told me angrily that I was just burned out – and I had no answer.  But when a couple of weeks later she said it again, with even more fire, I said, “I don’t think I’m burned out – I’m just lost.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m discouraged, but I haven’t given up.  I haven’t given up on doing something for the movement – I want to do something.  I just don’t know what it is.”

A week ago, another email came through from MoveOn.  “Resistance Summer” will train 1000 people to be better organizers – and focus them to resist Trump.  This clicked for me immediately.  In the background over these weeks, I had been getting glimpses of my own shortcomings as an organizer.  MoveOn had what apparently were extensive databases of resources for organizing your local rallies – and I had never looked at them, preferring to trust my gut instincts.  I saw periodic references to organizing a leadership team for your rally, but I was it for leading this rally – I made only a couple of minimal swipes at having anybody help me.  If I’m to really make a difference, I need to learn a lot more about organizing.

I have also taken on some leadership in my church social justice team – and similarly there I was dead in the water, not following through on the tasks I had taken on.  But yesterday, three days after applying for the Resistance Summer (I haven’t been accepted yet), I didn’t just do the five calls I was committed to for this social justice team – I did nine calls and it was fun, exciting.

What is calling you? What would it look like for you to be well-used?  I think more than at any time in the recent past lots of us feel a need to do something.  Are we meant to make calls to Congress?  To attend a rally?  A meeting?  To keep up with our reading?  To read this blog?

What kind of support do we need to move towards action?  Do we need to talk to a friend?  A pastor?  Do we need to take the topic into prayer? Meditation?  To church?  I take it into dance – hold the intention, then dance and see where that takes me.

I think we all need to hold ourselves lovingly.  What we have so far done or not done is just right.  If we criticize ourselves it’s going to be harder to get clear.  We can know and remember that we are smart and talented and resourceful – and that life will find ways to guide us towards that contribution we are uniquely scripted to make.

Cowspiracy

I’m a meat-eater.  I’m pretty clear on that.  I eat all manner of meat – from the healthy meat at the health food supermarket where I work to grungy fast-food meat.  I have seen no likelihood of me making any major changes in my eating habits.  So why, when my lovely friend Cam invited me to come to her wonderful tavern/community meeting place THE BLOCK off biltmore http://theblockoffbiltmore.com/ to see a movie about veganism, did I get scared to see it?  I did get scared – I thought this might mess with me, might turn me upside down.

Cowspiracy movie  Cowspiracy_poster

Cam is herself the best ad for veganism.  To know her is to like her – a lot.  She has such integrity and so much passion for the issue that it’s hard to hear her talk about it, even a little bit, without getting interested in it.  I want to be like she is.

I myself have a growing passion for the environment, for mother earth.  I was one of many people powerfully influenced by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: I came away from that movie greatly concerned for the vulnerability of our sweet planet earth.  The onslaught of anti-environment legislation pouring out of Donald Trump and the Republican congress has me very, very concerned.  I have been working diligently to help organize this week’s Asheville People’s Climate Rally – and have some hopefulness that our 200+ marches nationwide will get a good turn-out and will make a difference, including to fire up the modern environmental movement.  I picture myself getting arrested over this issue.  It’s not that I want to – I just think we may reach a point where totally legal actions no longer do the job.  Rev. Barber says we have already reached that point – and I trust him.

I didn’t expect this movie to pack a punch around the environment.  I should have expected this, because when I asked Cam if the movie was going to be about the environment, she said “Big time.”  I still didn’t get it.  Wow, is this movie ever about the environment, especially air and water pollution.  I could see myself become vegan just to be a good, responsible environmentalist.  But there’s lots more reasons.  I feel like I’m in the process of becoming a vegan – not there yet, but starting to make the change.

Resistance

Sometimes peace and love don’t have a real chance until you have done some resisting, but folks with new age  pretensions sometimes don’t know how to give resistance a chance.  The phrase “What we resist persists” has so slipped into the new age lexicon that some people will utter this sentence smugly and then feel they have just understood something.   It has zapped into their consciousness and they are unable see this innocent word in new ways.

If someone tries to harm my child, I’m going to resist them.  If I’m a black belt in Aikido, I may be able to resist them elegantly, without messing them up too much (though my old Aikido instructor used to say that if the other person’s violent energy causes  them to fall hard on the floor and hurt themselves, that’s  their karma.  He also used to say that if you stop them from hurting somebody – including you – you have saved them from some negative karma.)  Since I stopped practicing Aikido 30 years ago and have no remaining skill, if I want to stop the villain from hurting my child I may need to use a big stick – and I will.

The morning of the afternoon I was going to my first Resist Trump Tuesday rally, over breakfast I told some of my friends where I was going and three of them just totally jumped in my shit about the “resist” word.  “It’s negative”, “It’s not spiritual”, “It’s a bad word” and the final take-down “What you resist persists”.  I knew instinctively that they were wrong, but it was my first “Resistance” rally, the first time I ran into this buzz-saw of new age orthodoxy,  so I didn’t respond as elegantly as I would have liked.  I don’t think I literally said, “That’s the biggest pile of bullshit I ever heard”, but I think they could hear this in the lame-ass words I did use.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask, “Why do you feel the need to resist a little word?”, but it would have been totally appropriate.

I had just a day before written my “Sweet Peace” poem that had been commissioned by my church for an upcoming peace concert.  (https://avlresist.blog/2017/02/07/sweet-peace-majo/) This exchange over breakfast made me realize that my poem was missing some stuff – and I went right home and wrote a section on the value of resistance:

4 planning
My three dancers get some last-minute guidance from me.

Our work is to take to the barricades
Our work is to get arrested when that is our calling
Our work is to sit in and block traffic
And to be very, very noisy
To resist evil is a form of love
We will give “no!” a good name
Without some good, solid no’s
Our yes’s have no meaning
No integrity
To resist is to take a stand
To stand for something
To stand in their way
To stand up to Trump
Stand tall
To say, “You will go no further”
“You will not do this unchallenged”
“You will pay a price for this”
And “Yes I will stand for the poor and homeless
The immigrants, the oppressed.”
“Yes I will stand for the constitution
For equal rights under the law
For love.”

That made the poem a lot stronger, but a few weeks later a “Resist” t-shirt made it stronger still.  Several weeks after writing that last passage – and the day of the Peace Concert where I would be performing the poem – I was at my favorite ecstatic (free-form, improv) dance at nine in the morning.  When I had been dancing maybe 15 minutes and had gotten warmed up enough to strip off my outer shirt, it revealed underneath my brand-new “Resist” shirt.  I thought “This will be interesting – what’s it like to dance resistance?”

unveiling my Resist shirt
The “Resist” t-shirt gets unveiled at the concert

It was wonderful: energized, empowered, playful, frisky.  And it liberated some new poetry.  I right away grabbed the little spiral notebook that this writer keeps with him wherever he goes, and revised that passage above like this:

Our work is to take to the barricades
Our work is to get arrested when that is our calling
Our work is to sit in and block traffic
And to be very, very noisy
To resist evil is a form of love
We will give “no!” a good name
Without some good, solid no’s
Our yes’s have no meaning
No integrity
To resist is to take a stand
To stand for something
To stand in their way
To stand up to Trump
Stand tall
Rise up
Be proud of who you are
Oh, no they can’t take that away from me
Don’t touch her
Mess with him and you mess with me
Rise up
Say it with me
Rise up
Say it again
Rise up
One last time
Rise up

For me, the heart of that stanza is two lines:

“Don’t touch her”

which I deliver almost with a snarl – with a sense of menace that is not typical of me but feels totally right.  I see the offender immediately backing right off.  And

“Mess with him and you mess with me.”

I see myself protecting an undocumented man who is being threatened by an ICE agent.  One way I have pictured it is that I handcuff myself to my Mexican friend and say to the threatening agent, “You can’t take him without taking me.”  I knew this line had a powerful effect on my audience, though it was one of the first times I had managed to deliver it without getting choked up.

4 of us -me rdg in background
I read the poem while my dancers find a moment of repose.

The audience favorite in that stanza, though, was the call and response of “Rise up” – boy, they threw themselves into that stuff.

In the next post, I will talk about how our resistance needs to be informed by peace and love or it turns sour.

Blessings on our show from Stephanie and Alice and Sharon and Cameron

This morning I sent a last-minute, repeat invitation to the show to the seven people I live with at Lotus Lodge.  Stephanie – who apparently was also at her computer early in the morning – responded with her big good wishes and regrets that she couldn’t be there.  I sent her the text of the poem, apologizing that it was nothing compared to what we will deliver on Sunday, live with piano and dancers.  She responded with this,

“While I will miss the energy of the performance piece, it is your spirit that I treasure—and that was so generously and clearly woven into your written text.  As I read your words, I could clearly sense the spirit of you, your passion, the truth that you call forth… You have already gifted me with what you will generously share on Sunday.  Keep believing…”

I have really believed that this poem is bigger than me, that it comes from somewhere else – and that I have a sacred responsibility to support it by things like piano and dancers.  Stephanie’s words felt like a huge confirmation and I immediately forwarded them to my mates – Robert (piano) and Tom, Giovanna and Amanda (dancers).

In an earlier post (https://avlresist.blog/2017/03/14/when-the-resistance-is-aimed-at-me/), I described how – after a very exciting evening of talking about the show with my dancers – something dark came over me and I became convinced that the dancing would not work in that space (“No room on the stage”).  When Alice came through my checkout line at the grocery store this afternoon, she gave me an amazing A-ha around all that.  We were talking about that crisis with the dancers and she said, “Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of your plans.”  This one sentence unlocked so much for me.  I have done a lot of improv – improv poetry, improv dancing, etc.  But we never get the trust thing fully handled.  Talking about the dancing that evening, which was going to be all improvised, it was suddenly all just too much spontaneity for me – too much improvisation.  My poem would be scripted, but everything around me would be uncontrolled.

What tripped me up – what almost tripped up our whole piece – was fear, the desire to control things.  And if anything were to trip up our piece for me Sunday night, it would be fear. I would freeze.  I would stop breathing.  I would stop flowing with the inbreath and outbreath of the piano and dancing flowing around me.  At this point I know that this is the nemesis and will be much less vulnerable to it.  And there’s the blessing I then got from Sharon.

Sharon shouldn’t even have been in my checkout line today.  Alice came through my line with a cart full of groceries at 6:23 – seven minutes before the end of my shift.  I immediately put up my “Lane closed” sign.  I wanted her to be my last customer for so many reasons: she’s beautiful, fascinating and we always have great conversations.  We would certainly have a great conversation about the show – which we did.

So Alice was supposed to be my last customer (think control).  But as she walked away, with me starting to pick up my area, up walked my dancer friend Michelle.  She had three items – and there were so many reasons to let her in!  She’s a good friend of my dancer Tom, she’s a dancer friend of mine – this would be great!  And it was great…except… When I let her in my line, my friend Sharon – with a lot more groceries – saw that my line was open and scooted on in.

My heart sank.  I genuinely was tired.  My dog would need to get out, and I had a lot of tasks queued up for tonight.  But Sharon is genuinely a very cool, deep person and I like her a lot – how could I callously point to the “Lane closed” sign and send her away?  The whole situation had spun out of control.  Had I made a mistake by letting Michelle in?  The mind-fucking had begun.

When Michelle left and Sharon moved forward, I immediately began to relax.  I’ve known Sharon in several contexts and her presence had always set me at ease.  I think she is very aware and spiritual and strong and genuine.  I was starting to get happy.  I pushed back my exhaustion,  reached down deep and pulled up the energy to genuinely encounter her.  And I got paid back beyond my wildest dreams.

If I was going to have one last conversation with a customer today, I was by God going to make that conversation be about the show.  Almost from the first syllable I uttered about it, Sharon started to light up.  By the time I had talked about the enchanted singer-songwriter, headliner of the show, Cecilia St. King, Sharon was filled to bursting.  “This show can’t go wrong because it is real.”  This absolutely hit a nerve for me.  Cecilia seems to me like the real McCoy – like what she is going to offer will come from a very deep and genuine place.  And I honestly feel the same about my poem.  And my pianist and dancers – all improvising – will also be delivering genuine pieces of themselves.

I told Sharon that I would love to have her at the concert  – that I think she would get a lot out of it and that it would be so encouraging for me to see her there in the audience.  We quickly ascertained that she would not be able to be there, but she said, “I don’t need to be there, because I’m there right now.  The concert is happening now.  It is totally surrounded by blessings.  It’s full of grace.  It is protected by God.”  I drank all this in deeply and told Sharon that now she would absolutely be there Sunday night – that I would carry her there.

I was totally blown away by this, but now to punch out, buy four little items, and get home to my dog.  In the back room where we punch out, Cameron (Cam) was also punching out.  I knew from an earlier conversation that he was working until 7 tonight – yikes! I was 30 minutes late clocking out.  But I still got happy.  Cam is one of my favorite co-workers.  He is sweet and smart and has almost zero ego.  I was trying to remember another conversation we had had a few days ago about the concert – but I couldn’t quite pull it up.

“Were you a maybe for the show, or a no?”  

“I guess I’m a maybe – there’s no reason I can’t go.” 

“Well I’ve said things like this to people about the show before, but – based on a conversation I just had – I’m going to say this with a lot more confidence than before.  If there’s any way you can get there, come.  You won’t regret it.  Something very special is going to happen and I don’t want you to miss it.”

I think he really got the message, because he sounded totally genuine (I think he doesn’t know any other way to be) when he said, “OK, I’ll be there.”  And I am really happy that he’ll be there – happy for us and happy for him.

“Everything is peaceful as long as you love.”

I was telling a customer about my blog and told him the title, “Resistance, peace and love.”

His six-year-old daughter, standing directly in front of me, had been listening intently to the whole conversation.  She said, “I wrote, ‘Everything is peaceful as long as you love.'”

Her dad could see how blown-away I was.  “Yep.  She wrote it right before the election.  I have it on my desk.”

I use the words peace and love in my blog title – what do I mean by them?  Since I put them in the title, I’m indicating that I’ll be working this terrain as long as I write the blog – but here are some passes at it.

  • The monks in their monasteries create peace on the planet by meditating, thinking peaceful thoughts, living peaceful lives.  I really do believe this – if it wasn’t for them, we might have blown ourselves up already. monk meditating
  • My friend Sally didn’t want to come to my support group meeting because I announced the topic as “What to do in the age of Trump?”  It just upsets her too much to talk about him.  She is determined to keep a peaceful consciousness – is she like the monks in their monasteries?
  • My work friend Joan has unplugged her Facebook account because all the political talk there was too disturbing to her.  She is a deeply sensitive artist.  Is it maybe her duty to the world to protect herself from stimuli that are going to hurt her?
  • I have friends who are angry at people who didn’t vote in the last election.  Is the anger part of the problem?  Do we need to find non-angry ways to influence people to vote?
  • Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist order practices “engaged Buddhism” – they directly intervene in the way of violence.
  • Martin Luther King and Rev. William Barber led marches of civil disobedience, where they intentionally broke the law to expose a wrongful law. martin-luther-king-being-arrested-PWilliam-Barber-Arrest
  • I just went through a four-hour training (a pittance) on civil disobedience – where some people knew at the start that they are ready to get arrested, some knew that they could not afford (for all manner of good reasons) to get arrested, and others like myself were in a process of discernment about whether we are ready to get arrested.   I honestly feel almost sure that I’m going to get arrested this year, but don’t logically understand why i think this and want to approach it thoughtfully.

Sometimes, behind my cash register, I feel like I am called to directly intervene in the direction of greater peace for a customer.  I may not even know from where is coming the impulse, but I trust it.

Today I had in front of me a young mom who was clearly at her wit’s end.  She had a maybe ten year old son down at the foot of aisle, leaning on her shopping cart – seeming to be very resentful.  She had a three-year old son who was running around making noise – yet still seemed to be very clearly a special kid.

I watched her somewhat rough attempts to quiet him and then finally,  spontaneously and warmly said, “That little boy has a very bright light around him.”

This seemed to take her aback and she said, “Right now he’s really misbehaving.”

“I know, he sometimes is going to be difficult, but he’s a real  special kid.”

Then I looked her straight in the eye and said, “And you are doing something very right with him.”  This last line really seemed to reach her.  She seemed to soften and I thought she might cry.  I think she felt seen, understood.forrtune teller

A couple of weeks ago, I had a young woman in front of me who seemed really tense, really down. I didn’t know as I was speaking it where this was coming from, but what came out was, “You are a deeply creative, artistic spirit.  This kind of depth is not always comfortable and you may even suffer from it.  But you are on the right track and it’s going to get easier.”  Her eyes got bright and I was really glad I had spoken.

This morning a woman who came through my line said, “Several months ago, I came through your line right after getting some bad medical news.  You looked me straight in the eye and said ‘This is all going to work out.’  You really set my mind at ease – you were an angel for me.  And it has worked out.”  How did I know that things were going to work out medically for her?  I feel sure that I would not have said it if I didn’t feel sure of it.

The other day, based on very little data, I said to a couple, “You two are really good together.  You  put out a great vibe.  It makes me happy to be around you.”  There are so many factors in this society that make it hard for a couple to stay together.  They may not have a lot of cheerleaders for their relationship.  I don’t know really what moves me to say stuff like this to a couple, but it feels like a calling.

I don’t know where these words are coming from, but I trust them.  There’s the risk of this being intrusive.  Certainly I have not contracted with the person for the right to deal with them so directly.  I seem to be finding a voice that I had not known before. It’s a gift to me – and a gift I am meant to share with others.

When the resistance is aimed at me…

Sometimes I am the oppressor.

It all started out fine.  I was asked if I would write a poem for a Peace Concert at Jubilee, my church, headlining the wonderful Cecilia St. King (“The Inner Peace Troubadour”).  I knew right away that I wanted to write the poem, committed to do it – and then it all spilled out pretty magically later that night.  I liked the poem – Sweet Peace – a lot.

I knew that I wanted music.  A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Robert Thomas’ girlfriend Rose at a concert and told her how well he and I have worked together in the past – me with my words, him with his piano.  She saw the light bulb go on in my head – of course, Robert and I are overdue to collaborate!  He was free for the date and liked the idea, liked the poem when I sent it to him.

I also knew that I wanted dancers: this is about liberation – give me the people!  Amanda Levesque, Tom Kilby and Giovanna Allegretti had just recently knocked my socks off with their dancing at a Fringe Festival show – and Tom and Amanda had worked with my poetry a year ago, and they are close friends of mine.kneeling

The three dancers all liked the idea, so we got together.  We talked a lot and didn’t dance.  We outlined nine sections: music only, words/music, words/music/dancers, etc.  It started to feel real and we got very  pumped.  We planned another rehearsal for the next week.

bowling
Giovanna and Tom hold Amanda

Just how or why the forces of oppression started to take over in my head I don’t know.   Was it all just too much creativity…too much collaboration….too much liberation?  The short form of the negativity that started to surface was “This is not going to work.”  It fixated on what had just so much excited me – the dancing.  “There’s not going to be room for the dancing.”  Truly, I had been picturing the room – which I know very well and have performed in many times – arranged in two different ways that would nicely accommodate dancing, but not how it will certainly be arranged for a musical concert.  I really started to sink.

I sent an email to my concert contact, but really did not brainstorm with him so much as lay out my case that it probably would not work to have three dancers – including one in an electric scooter.  He took the cue and agreed with me.

I sent a very apologetic email to Amanda, Tom and Giovanna – and felt terrible.  The next day I felt even more terrible.  I felt that something was going terribly wrong, that I was making a big mistake.

I came home after work and opened Facebook to a four-way conversation we had started the previous day.  Amanda had just, real-time, said  “I had the idea of doing a guerilla style performance!!! What do you guys think!??”

Amanda spirit
Amanda has a feisty spirit – she never quits.

They were considering going ahead and dancing anyway! I was shocked and confused.  It was my gig and I had said that the dancing was off – how could this be?  Then a huge weight started to lift off my shoulders and I started to get happy.  What if I didn’t get to decide?  What if  – having joined my troupe – they now owned the piece as much as I did?  What if they are artists just as much as I am?  What if their creativity is just as important as mine?  What if I am wrong about them not being able to dance on this stage?  What if they know more about their art than I do?

bowling2
Another night at the bowling alley…

Layers of patriarchy started to roll off me.  I began to cry.  It all suddenly felt so fucking good.

Amanda had asked, “What do you guys think?”

Tom had seen that I had come on the conversation and said, “I think with Majo’s OK?”

I wrote, “I can’t say OK, having negotiated with Jay that we would not do it. If, however, we have unleashed something that can’t be put back in the bottle, so be it. It seems to fit the liberation theme of the concert and is actually making me very happy. While I was feeling the need to pull the plug on the dancing – ‘There’s not enough room for it, it will be messy’ – I’ve been feeling very sad about it, it feels wrong.”

I went downtown to a meeting and came back to my computer later in the evening. Giovanna was just coming online.  She pushed us in a different direction: “I feel like a guest in someone else’s home; I’d rather ask for permission than ask for forgiveness….I’m a planner. 🙂 I like to know what to expect. And I like to remain mindful of others involved who might also want to know what to expect.”

This shifted me.  I started to feel empathetic for the guy I had been negotiating with, who was also going to be the guitarist for Cecilia.  If this dancing happened out of the blue – after he and I had agreed that it would not happen – it could throw him totally off his game.  Giovanna loudly agreed.

But I obviously had still not totally let go.  I proposed that I go to Jay the next day and basically threaten him that the dancers were in insurrection and might dance anyway.

Giovanna replied, “I would go to him and say that the dancers are flexible, adaptable critters and enjoy small spaces. We are willing to work with this restriction, if he would find that appropriate.”

So soft, so smart – and she’s so young!  I replied, “You are clearly not an anarchist like Tom and me – and maybe Amanda.”

“Haha nope! 🙂

Me: “We need some good anarchists, but what a mess this place would be if we all were!  I like this approach – and could see doing it in an email, maybe with your exact words. I’ll wait until I get a go from all three of you.

“Great. This is feeling good. Kudos to Amanda for boldly launching the whole guerilla riff – that turned everything around, really rescued the project; to Tom for doing good listening through all this – what a perfectly non-patriarchal role to play; and to Giovanna – coming into the stream when so much had already gone down – for so much grounded common sense and empathy for those receiving our initiations. And to me for being so willing to let the three of you influence me.”Head shot

And I do believe this was my biggest contribution to the process, was to let them influence me.  I cried at several points in the dialogue.  It was thrilling to not have to be in charge.  I am more sure than ever that our collaboration is going to be very exciting, regardless of the space…because we have created so much space.

The Angry Activist

While our goal may be to have our resistance emanate from peace and love, we are still human beings in a very difficult juncture for our country, dealing in Trump with an adversary who is extraordinarily hostile and dishonest and dangerous and who has gathered around him other life-threatening people like Pence and Bannon.  So we’re going to get triggered – and the challenge then becomes how to get ourselves back to a zone that is genuinely life-affirming.

Given all that, it is extraordinary that all through the election cycle and the first few weeks of Trump’s administration – until yesterday – I have never gotten really furious at Trump.  Angry, outraged, but never gut-level enraged – until yesterday.

Maybe it snuck up on me because I wasn’t ready for it. I was on a ten-minute break at work (I’m a cashier in a healthy supermarket) and checking my emails on my phone.  It was in this somewhat distracted environment that I read, in the Washington Post, an article about Trump accusing Barack Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower.  Then, the real killer, he tweeted, “He’s a bad (or sick) man.”

All through the election campaign, I would get angry at Trump for stuff he said to and about Clinton.  I like her, admire her – supported her as a candidate, felt sure she would be a good president.  But I never loved her.  This is maybe why I never got really enraged about his attacks  on her.

Barack I love.  You don’t fuck with my Barack.  I considered changing that word to “mess with my Barack”.  What if there are children reading this?  Not likely.  Mess doesn’t capture it.  There’s something primal about my connection with Barack.  I admire him and his family so greatly that I feel protective of him.  Fuck with him you fuck with me.  So I was pissed. angry-demonstrator-girl

I didn’t have time to integrate this before my ten minutes were over and I was suddenly back in front of customers.  I tried to function, but I was seething.  This is a very liberal town and a very liberal store – you’re usually safe to criticize Trump.  Finally, after about twenty minutes of trying to function but really seething, I looked at the customers in front of me and made a snap judgment that this was a situation where I could get away with venting.

I had a short guy at 2 o’clock – who, looking back on it, really did look like a businessman.  Then, directly ahead of me – the next customer after the short guy – a big tall guy and at 10 o’clock a woman who seemed to be his partner.  I tried to keep some brakes on and ensure my safety.  “Would anybody mind if I vent about politics?”  The tall guy directly in front of me said, “I don’t think that would be safe.”

Now why did I decide that meant “Sure, go ahead”?  I’ll tell you why – because I just plain could not control it any more.  I couldn’t stop myself from venting, so I told myself this did not mean that he was conservative.  Actually he and the short guy both turned out to be conservative and the wife, who seemed very friendly through the whole encounter, never reported.

Actually I could not have been much luckier in my choice of conservative customers.  Neither of them ever showed any signs of getting genuinely angry – they mostly teased me about assuming that conservatives don’t buy healthy food.  I must have recovered pretty well too, because we overall had a very funny encounter.  As the tall guy was leaving, I said “For a conservative, you’re really funny.”

So I got off better than I had a right to, but this was not an example of healthy activism.  And I was still angry.  angry-demonstrator-guyActually the rest of my day was a story about how do you recover from getting really angry in the political wars.  Several things helped me to recover.

  • After the encounter with these three people, when I was still very raw and exposed, I just shut up and swiped groceries for a while.  And breathed.  Here – and really for the remaining five hours of my shift – the simple monotonous physicality of the work was soothing and helped me to get back into balance.
  • During some slow moments, I told one of my colleagues the story of me and the conservative customers.  While I’m usually pretty safe to assume that our customers are liberal, I’m maybe always safe to assume that with my co-workers.  I would be surprised if there is a one of them who is pro-Trump.  This is especially true of the front-end, where I really know these people.  So the co-worker I picked and I had gales of laughs over the story of my losing it with my venting.
  • I made a better choice of a customer to vent with about the news story – and we shared our outrage about Trump.  I discovered that we also shared a genuine love for Obama – and there was something very soothing about sharing at that level.
  • One thing I love about my job is the chance to affirm people.  I make a game of looking for just the right way to appreciate customers.  I leaned into that and it restored a healthy sense of positiveness.
    • “I like your hair.”
    • “What a great hat.”
    • “You have a perfect nose.”
    • “You two put out such a great vibe.  I bet people like being around you.”
    • “These are the most well-behaved children I’ve seen all day.”
  • The question I like to ask people on Friday and Saturday is “What’s something you are looking forward to this weekend?”  That also helped – on a day when I was still, couldn’t shake it, raw and angry – to surround me with positive energy.
  •   That night I went home and. after walking and feeding the dog, spent an hour at my computer doing good positive movement work – making contact with the leader of another resistance group.  I actually kept falling asleep over the email I was writing him, but it soothed me towards sleep.
  • This morning I woke up angry – that’s almost unprecedented for me.  But then I went dancing at 9 a.m. – my Sunday morning routine, with people i like and love – and that was very good for me.
  • This afternoon I got angry at my dog for ignoring my calls for her to come.  She’s an adorable, lovable little four-pound dog and I pretty much never get angry at her.  I’m not over it yet.

It’s a process – recognizing the anger, working with it, releasing it.  If I want to do civil disobedience, I’ll have to get better at it.  If I want to survive this period in our country’s life, I need to learn how to soothe myself.  If I want to be a healthy activist – if I want to really serve the resistance – I need to learn all I can about this.