Wednesday, December 19, 2012

social action? yes! whatever that means...

The other day was a friend's 27th birthday. So I did what any good long-distance friend would do, I signed into facebook and clicked on his timeline. I browsed through all the digital expressions of good wishes, amazed at all the many different ways you can say 'happy birthday', when I came across this:

Painfully Earnest Birthday Message for my Friends (this is long, heads up):

So, okay. Tomorrow is my birthday. I will be twenty seven years old. People have asked me what I want for my birthday, and there IS something I want, something I DESPERATELY want, from ALL of you.

You probably know, if you've been watching this space, that I have been involved for a minute in the anti-hydrofracking movement for the last year. Becoming politically active and participating in anarchic decision making processes has been a great privilege. Edward Abbey says that conviction without action is the death of the soul; I believe that's true, and that the corollary is also true, that becoming active brings the soul to life, and marks the beginning of a singular personal transformation. Unless you've experienced it for yourself, you will never know what a holy thing it is to work for something that isn't money.

For my birthday, I want you to get involved. I mean it. Many of you are already involved in various struggles for a socially just and environmentally sustainable world, and that is beautiful. This post isn't for you. This post is for my friends who aren't yet involved in any kind of action.

I'm pleading with you to get involved, for a number of reasons. First, you will discover whole new genres of joy and pride and satisfaction. You will meet people who are better than you thought people could be. We tend to think of activism as a depressing thing, but political activism contains profound personal rewards for those who do it. Trust me. Second, our world is in really rough shape, so much so that the notion of moral neutrality has no substance anymore, if it ever did - as the old saying goes, if you're not part of the solution, you really are part of the problem. Sad but true. To be inactive in the face of the climate crisis, the class war, or any number of other current realities is precisely what Arendt meant when she talked about the "banality of evil." And although I might not always say it to you, it honestly DOES make a difference to me when I hear you talk about your beliefs and then I don't see you doing anything.

You can always come up with a thousand reasons not to get involved. Activism requires work and time - researching an issue until you have the confidence of your convictions, participating, learning to work successfully with different people. And you might not want to look silly. You may be really, really busy (who isn't?). However, the truth is that, with very few exceptions, everyone is capable of getting involved to some extent. You are neither too stupid nor too smart. You are not too dull or too creative. The truth is, we need YOU, specifically. We need you desperately. If you don't know where to start, let's talk about it! There is no conversation I am more eager to have.

I'm honestly less concerned with what you choose as the target of your activism. That's your decision. If you decide to do anti-racist work, union organizing, queer activism, climate work, or some brilliantly articulated combination of those, that's all fantastic. Just as there are a million problems, there are a million ways you can decide you want to contribute to the solution. The only intolerable option is not getting involved at all.

Start doing activism and you will be participating in history, you will receive rewards beyond price, and you will touch the closest thing to the sublime that the material world has to offer. Trust me.

That's all. Thanks for listening.

Now this was something different. A plea for action. Social action.

I wrote my happy birthday wishes on my friend's timeline and signed out. I refrained from inescapable downward spiral of facebook browsing. This time.

I turned off my computer, but my friend's message stayed with me for the rest of the day. Like a transitory rain cloud, pleasantly lingering, yet noninvasive. Thoughts swarmed. Am I participating in social action? Can I do more? What do I believe in? What is responsible social action anyway? Each question a world, each answer a novel.

Alisa's Concept Social Action Timeline

Pre 5 years old: be a good person.
5 years old: don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat, be nice, share
15 years old: the world is full of injustices and it's my job to fix them. protests. petitions. ani difranco. boycotts. conferences. ripped clothes. punkrock.
17 years old: civil disobedience. protests. bob dylan.
19 years old: protesting may have worked in the past, but it doesn't work any more. journalism is corrupt. education is the key.
23 years old: be in nature. educate. government is obsolete and needs to be re-created.
24 years old: there are things in life I can't control. there are things in life I can control. flow with them.
25 years old: real change comes from my actions. i must live my ideals. and until I do, I have no right to tell others how to live. self sustainability is the ultimate form of social activism. learn everything.
26 years old: with self sustainability, government ceases to be important. smile. play. flow. positive energy.
27 years old: be a good person

Life is cyclical. And sometimes the simplest answer is the most practical and the most effective. Why complicate things? Human beings tend to seek complications and extremes; sometimes we forget the importance of basic, simple, humble, and easy.

'Be the change you want to see in the world'. I couldn't agree more. Avoiding blame, pointing the fingers at others, and focusing on the outside problems may feel good, but isn't very productive. It is a stressful, uphill and nearly impossible battle to try to change others. We often do, though, only to avoid looking at ourselves, our actions, and our areas of improvement. Looking inward is a tough journey. But there's so much more potential. And how can we tell others what to do, if we ourselves are not walking our talk?

And perhaps what we scold others for doing, is really a reflection of what we don't like about our own behavior. Our comments, complaints, compliments and suggestions say more about us than they do about the person we are directing them at. So, slow down, stop, retract that pointer finger. Point it inward. The peace you aren't finding in the world, can be found within you.

There are things in life we can control. There are things in life we can't control. However, although we may not be able to control our bosses, families, friends, significant others.... governments... we can control our own actions, the choices we make, and how we let those around us affect us.

So act! Find what you're passionate about. Do what you love, act with your heart, do it deliberately. If you don't like something in your life, change it if you can. But if you can't, change how it affects your energy. That you can always control.

Thank you, Patrick, for your eloquent, thought-provoking, inspiring message of hope, passion and power. And happy birthday.

1 comment:

Peaceful Road Warrior said...

Yes, life is cyclical. Let's old will you be when you go back to civil disobedience?!! I'll need to get your attorney on speed dial.