Social activism is continual empowerment training. Said another way, we are continually encountering the hopelessness that has accumulated in us through the years.
- “The deck is stacked: the military-industrial complex has all the money and all the power.”
- “The Republicans have both houses of Congress and the Executive Branch – and they are packing the judiciary.”
- “The Republican congress is in the hip pocket of the NRA, which is too powerful and too rich for them to resist.”
So what do we do? Lay down and die?
We could line up the counter-arguments:
- The Marjorie Stoneman Jackson students and the gun control movement they are building
- All the Democrats who are winning in previously red districts (Conor Lamb yesterday in Philadelphia)
- In November we take back the House and impeach Trump.
- In 2018 more gains for Democrats
- The Mueller probe!
But even more than comparing the pluses with the negatives, we can learn to not despair. We can practice holding on to hope in the face of difficulty.
It can really help to practice this hope process in some life area that is less heavy than gun violence. I pick swing dancing.
14 years ago, I took my first and only (before tonight) swing dance lesson. I came away in total despair: “I will never learn how to do this.” And that’s where I have stayed for 14 years. “I can do free-form improv dancing – with some grace and a lot of enthusiasm – but I cannot learn steps.”
So why am I out here tonight attempting again to learn swing dancing? Because my friend Whitney Moore – one of the very best vocalists in Asheville – has a new band that plays swing music, playing here tonight. Queen Bee (Whitney Moore) and the Honey Lovers – video of three sweet tracks Because “here” is THE BLOCK off biltmore – the sweetest bar in town, owned by Cam MacQueen, one of the sweetest women in town, a long time fierce progressive who (with her club) supports all manner of progressive causes.
Oh, and something more: some part of me can no longer deny that I have always found (from the sidelines) swing dancing to be very sweet and have always really wished I knew how to do it.
At the club tonight, there are two one-hour swing lessons before the band plays. I put down my money for both lessons and the band. An hour later, I stagger out from the back room – where the dancing happens – having had a few magic moments at the first lesson where some basic moves fell into place… and many more moments where the inner sound track ran “I told you you can never learn this, fool – leave and never come back.”
I didn’t leave. I decided to sit out the second lesson, because my brain is spent. Out in the bar, Cam tells me that the first lesson – the one I just took – was actually an intermediate lesson, so I rush back into the back room to try the “beginners” lesson, but still can’t do it and quickly come back out.
Now the band is playing, Whitney is gorgeous and brilliant, her musicians are smokin’. The dancers are fabulous – some very accomplished, some beginners trying out their few new steps. They all look beautiful and very alive. I could almost be out there – someday. Right now I literally know nothing. But some day.
I will come back. I will take one and maybe some weeks two lessons. I will learn from YouTube in between Tuesday nights: the Lindy hop, apparently also called the 8-count swing. I will stare down my despair: for 14 years I have been telling myself I can’t do this, but maybe that’s been a cruel hoax – no longer true.
Oh, and I also want gun control. For so long it has looked like the NRA has all the power. But what if things have changed? What if this moment belongs to the Parkland kids – and high school kids all over the country, who are today walking out of their classes to protest for gun control?
And their parents and all of us who believe that something new can happen.
Maybe if we dance enough.
7 p.m. at Jubilee
If your road is snowy, stay safe and we’ll see you next week.
Majo – 828-582-9822
In times like this of great national chaos and crisis there is a tendency for thoughtful, responsible people to agonize about what they should do about all this. The Releasing the Force Conversation Series will shift the discussion from what you should do to what is the calling of your heart. The tone of the evenings will be tender and nurturing to respond to the trauma we are all experiencing. Come to one session or all four.
Four Wednesday evenings, 7-8:30, March 14-April 4, Jubilee downstairs. Majo hosts.
What’s your personal story around activism? What’s next for you? Contact Majo to register and get pre-work – or just show up for any evening. $10 or donation per evening. Each evening is self-contained – write Majo for detailed agenda. firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-582-9822
Last night I wrote a blog post about gun control, in which I listed three different actions you could take to push for gun control – none of which were swing dancing, or any kind of dancing. What an oversight! Alice Walker wrote “Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.”
Yesterday, in addition to my blog post, I put up two Facebook posts – one promoting the blog post and one promoting a weekly swing dance session at a local club. Why didn’t I put the two together? The swing dance will feature a much beloved local vocalist, in a much beloved local club that continually supports progressive causes (e.g. the after-party for the Women’s March). I, who have until yesterday compulsively said that I only can do free-form improv dancing (which I love), am acknowledging that I’ve in my heart always wanted to learn swing dancing. And I have an intuition that – especially by promoting this and bringing out a lot of my friends – this could be a magical weekly experience.
And if I want to stay alive as an activist I’ve got to have fun! I’ve got to dance!
Come on out on Tuesday nights! Queen Bee (Whitney Moore) and the Honey Lovers play this week.
Or find some other dance in Asheville or in your town!
Today at work, I got into a conversation with a customer about my activism blog. “What’s your current hotbutton?” she asked. I didn’t hesitate: “Guns.” I didn’t totally understand why this came through so loud and clear, but there it was.
And yet, in the three weeks since the Parkland School shootings, I have until tonight only written one blog post about this – why?
I’ve thought about this a lot through the day. Here are my top three reasons for focusing on this issue – and the top three reasons we might avoid it.
Why focus on school shootings and guns:
- The student uprising stirred by the Parkland shootings has created a very ripe moment in our society – it has captured our imagination. The nationwide marches on March 24 will build this moment. And there is a very real possibility that this uprising is not going away.
March for Our Lives 3/24 – national site
March for Our Lives 3/24 – Asheville site
- The focus on guns exposes the macho life-threatening underbelly of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. They are bought and sold by the NRA. They really believe that arming teachers is the answer. They are so out of touch with the hearts and minds of most Americans. This issue will help turn them out of power.
- The prevalence of and love for guns epitomize what is out of whack in America. The battle over guns is a battle for the soul of the country.
Why we would avoid the whole issue:
- It’s horrifying on the face of it. It’s about mass shootings, the slaughter of the innocents – about what could happen to us. Who wants to look at it?
- It is in many ways true that right now the pistol-packers have most of the power (and most of the money). Focusing on this could be very demoralizing – and scary.
- We have been disappointed so many times in the past. If Sandy Hook didn’t change things, what’s so different now?
How do we manage our hopelessness, our discouragement? How do we make this time be different? We do something – take action, take a stand. Nothing will change your energy better than doing something.
- Make a donation/join a group. Just reading one or more of these sites may be inspiring.
- Get the word out. Email your friends – even just a few of them, even one. “Share” this post to Facebook. Put some of your own words at the top. Or just make your own Facebook post about your reaction to all this. Include the link to the national “March for Our Lives” site and/or your favorite anti-gun organization. Include this one luminary photo.
- Go to a rally on March 24! Even if you have to make a trip to be there. Being with a group on this special day can help you to know that change is possible.
“Where can I find a march?” 583 marches worldwide and counting
I delivered this little four-minute talk as a “gift” at the Jubilee Sunday services on January 21, 2018. It describes, in personal and sometimes humorous terms, the inception of the Releasing the Force project just 20 days earlier – and what it might mean for the people in the room…and for you.