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.
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. We 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.
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.