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.

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.

“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.