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Inspiration for Activists or As Tim Gunn might say “This worries me…” But trust me, we’re not giving up yet!

April 8, 2011

Sometimes, the government just feels like too much…issues feel too big and everything seems highly and completely overwhelming.

Overwhelming with a Big Capital O.

On days when our representatives are trying to bring back the McCarthy era (the controversy, the trial), hide torture and squash those who speak out, shut down health care to millions of our fellow citizens, kill some of the last good news we have available, and strip us of the right to breath clean air….it just gets a bit much.

That of course is usually when you find out even more bad news…like that there’s ANOTHER WAR breaking out, that even more people are dying of deadly plague or the latest for us…some radical group is trying to shut down the government to get what they want.  Talk about tantrums!  This is a six year old method of solving problems–if you don’t let me have that toy I want, I’m going to sit here and scream and throw a fit until I get what I want!  Add to that the fact that we’re still fighting to maintain legal protection for victims crimes of sexual violence and I think it is enough to drive even the most sensible, do-it-yourself-er to a state of tearing out the hair in frustration!

But not all is lost!  When it comes to days like this, times like this, I find it helpful to stop, take a deep breath and remind myself of a few truths that I have learned from some very wise activists along the way:

1) We’ve been here before.

This bit of truth can be a tough but it never fails to fires a beastly sense tenacity in me that I’m not always aware of when things are smooth sailing.  Just the kind of tenacity I need when staring down a tough situation, limited options and problems to tackle.  Just the kind of tenacity that carries me through to the other side of trouble.  Just the kind of tenacity that helps all of us be present to make change where change is needed.  We weather, we work, and we will create a brighter future with time and hard work no matter how bad things may seem in the moment.

I was reminded of this truth recently at a panel discussion.  A young woman was speaking about inter-generational dialogue in the feminist movement and a comment was made recalling the re-election of George W. Bush.  The woman who spoke recalled that election day as a dark one, filled with the fears of destruction and doom for reproductive rights but while everyone in her office was feeling like they’d been sucker punched, there was an older woman there who rallied the group by reminding them:  hey–we’ve been here before.  I was here when Reagan was elected and re-elected, when Bush Sn. was elected and many more–we keep working, we get through and we will make a difference.

So true.  And so important to remember in times like these.  It can be easy to forget how much any social justice movement has had to work against, all the ups and downs that come up over the years.  But if we listen to the experiences of those who’ve come before, our role models and the wisdom they have to share, we’ll remember that no matter how bad things may look, it’s never the end of the road.  Look at what we’ve come through.  Sometimes things are easier, sometimes they’re harder but we’ve faced challenges many times before and found a way around them.  History repeats?  Nothing new under the sun?  Cliches may fit but the end point for me is:  don’t lose hope, we’ve seen trouble before, we’ll see trouble again but no matter what the cause–if it’s worth standing up for, we stand up, we make our voices heard, we keep working and we will make this world a better place.

2) We endure.

This goes with number 1 and is SO SO TRUE.  We endure.  The human spirit is hardy, tenacious and a beast to put down.  Genocide may kill individuals but it never kills a people and those who survive live on.  Torture victims create new lives for themselves.  Victims of even the worst crimes can find healing and often a voice to stand up for the rights of others.  We are a species that survives.  Physically, mentally and emotionally.  Not only do we survive but we thrive even in the most restrictive climates.  When it comes to social justice movements and creating change, this capacity is one of the most powerful tools we have and we use it every day often without even realizing it. Hold on world because we’re here to stay and we will find a way.  We’ll make our voices heard and we’ll empower our world.  No Matter What.

3) We are the face of our communities.

This one comes from a community organizer I met in Chiclayo, Peru.  She was answering a question about what effects the Catholic church placing conservative clergy in her region to try and squash social reform would have on their community work.  She basically said:  the priests are not “la rostra de la iglesia” (the face of the church), they may seem like they’re in charge but the true face of the church is the people and we will be here no matter who comes and goes.

To this day, her words stand strong in my mind.  Politicians come and go, celebrity fads come and go, but the people remain.  Always always always those of us with hope in our hearts and a will to make this world a better place will surmount even the most hair-brained of institutional leaders.  We shape the communities we live in, we make the change, and we are the true power as long as we choose to act and to be present.  Whether we are working in our own back yards or standing with others far and away, we are the faces that shape this world.  That power rests in ALL of our hands.  No matter who is supposedly in charge, the face of the community is the people of the community and we will always shape the world we live in.

4) Hope will never die.

Human ingenuity.  In even the most wretched of situations, hope rises inevitably like weeds through the cracks of despair.  Hope beyond all sense, beyond all limits of resources or time, hope that reflects an imagination and spiritual depth of a magnitude I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand but stand in awe of nevertheless.  The spark of the human existence: hope, ideas, dreams, persistence, and creativity NEVER cease to amaze me.  As soon as I think the world is becoming too hard, too callous or just too foolish something pops up in life to remind me that yes, with human beings truly anything is possible.  Astounding, amazing and inspiring.  You give me hope, every last one of you.  Take a look at each other and realize just how incredibly remarkable we each are.  It’s just amazing.  The human capacity to dream, to create, to analyze problems and come up with solutions is unprecedented and constantly breaking its own achievement records in ways both small and large, both public and private.  This ingenuity hangs on for dear life in even the direst moments without losing vivacity, without losing the remarkable joy that is so intertwined with the human spirit.  Take heart, though we may stumble for a time, nothing is ever truly hopeless, you are never truly lost, and in the end we will work it out. Hope will never die and we are creating a better world even as we dream it up.

5) Everything we do makes a difference.

Mahtma Gandhi is quoted as saying “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  This is a beautiful quote and I would like to take it a step further and add that you are already a force of change for what is happening in the world.  Own it!  Make it something beautiful.  Live to the fullest whatever you feel called to be:  Loving, caring, joyous, helpful, realistic, honest, radical, thought provoking….the possibilities are so numerous the sky isn’t even a limit!  This is so huge!  Every interaction you have, every conversation, every time you use your voice, your actions, your very being you are creating and making the world a richer and more amazing place.  Do with it what you wish and don’t doubt for an instant that you have the power to make a difference.

I think that teachers have better exposure to this than many of us.  I’ve heard stories from teachers with all kinds of backgrounds who are astounded and humbled when students come back even years later to say:  you had an impact, your class, your words changed my life and look at all I’ve made from this.  More often than not, things that may have passed the teacher’s notice as inconsequential or just a standard part of the course have had a profound impact upon their students and those individuals have taken that inspiration in a direction the teacher could never have imagined.  If you think back, I bet you can think of teachers–both good and bad–who have influenced your life in such a way.  And think about others in your life who have made an impact on you, who have changed your way of looking at the world.  You know as well as I do that this doesn’t just happen in the classroom.  It happens every day and the effects are amazing.  My point is:  live who you want to be, live what you’re passionate about, and live the change, create the change you wish to see in the world because literally everything everything EVERYTHING we do makes a difference. There is so much power in the everyday.  Power to change the world.  So be it, do it because believe me, it’s already happening.

6) We stand together, strong.

Solidaridad. Solidarity.  When someone asks, what can I do?  How can I help?  Sometimes the best and simplest answer is:  stand with me.  For together we are strong.  You don’t have to speak for me, fight my fight or experience the same things I do to stand with me and lend your strength through solidarity.  This is true in so many ways, so many movements, so many places.  Organizations can stand in solidarity with one another and as individuals, when we add our name to petitions, tweet or blog about human rights, social concerns or add our voices to a cause in any other way we are saying:  yes, I see you, I know you and I stand beside you.  This gives strength and voice to both movements and individuals.

We can bring this one back to a playground analogy as well.  A bully on the playground is much more likely to back off, back down, and cease destructive behavior if enough kids stand with the ones being picked on.  If even the smallest kids on the playground stand together when the on picked on makes his or her stand against the bully, they are adding more voices to the disapproval of the bullying and the bully will be more likely to change or step down.  It really does work!

Furthermore, truly standing in solidarity forges bonds and understanding between people from all range of backgrounds.  The kind of understanding that is rooted in acknowledging one another’s human experience with respect and humility.  This simultaneously lends strength to all who are involved.  Moptopmaven has a wonderful quote on her site:  “Don’t walk in front of me, I might not follow.  Don’t walk behind me, I might not lead.  Walk beside me and be my friend.” I think that this truly captures the essence of solidarity.  Walk beside me, walk together, add your voice and the chorus becomes ever stronger.  Never underestimate the power of being present.  Indeed, even one voice makes a difference!

So to finish…

I hope that I have left you with some tidbits to help sustain you in your own work.  I may not know what your work is or where your passions run but I tell you truly that I send you my deepest and whole hearted wishes for you to live your dream, change the world, and make this crazy time we live in all the richer and more beautiful.  Your very existence is revolutionary.  I can’t wait to see what amazing things we will create.

I leave you with a quote from Fannie Flagg‘s book Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!

“When would you stop time, Mother Smith?”

Mother Smith mused.  “Well, I don’t think I would.  I think I’d just let it go on like it has been.”

“You would?”

Mother Smith had been taken to the great World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 when she was a small child and had looked forward to the future ever since. “Oh, yes.  I’d hate to take a chance on missing something good that might be coming up, just around the corner, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess you’re right, Mother Smith,” Dorothy said, “we just have no idea of what the future holds, do we?”

One Comment leave one →
  1. tigger permalink
    April 9, 2011 8:55 pm

    wow. i feel better just reading this. and may i add the old union saying, “united we stand. divided we beg.” it’s so true that just standing together makes a difference.

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