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.

“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.