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 Douglas 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 2020 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.