As I sit with the experience from Oaxaca, there are several phrases that come to me to capture my reflections about Now Activism:
· Opening and following the heart
· Grounded in place
· Letting go of comfortable lens to see what is real
· Deep hospitality
As I write this, I am sitting in an airport in West Virginia, having just visited a community that is doing amazing work in a small rural, Appalachian coal mining community. In this place, they have experienced a totally exploitive economy that has taken their resources, destroyed their beautiful mountains and left very little in terms of jobs or other ways of finding resources to be part of the mainstream economy. The organization we have been working with is small, run mostly by women, and dedicated to the nurturing of their community as well as stepping up to challenge the institutions that ought to be serving them, but don’t.
The work that they have been doing recently is to bring together youth and adults working as partners to develop ideas about how they can collaborate with a school district to bring in needed changes that will improve the quality of education for their youth. Having just lost a battle over school consolidation, it was hard for people to believe that they could insist on changes in the school. Along the way, we have seen them being dispirited and tired. After decades of being told to be quiet, it takes great courage to stand up and speak the truth to power. While here, we celebrated a major agreement that the School Board has signed that make this group partners in the future of the schools, in bringing in the kind of training and curriculum that will honor their place and heritage.
These are people that are committed to their place and their stories and to each other. They are people who live and offer deep hospitality. While there is much poverty, there is no homelessness. Whenever we are here, we are surrounded by laughter, people offering us gifts, invited in to the music and the festivals. Once I met a woman on the street and in the next moment she invited me to her home for a party, just so I wouldn’t be alone in a strange place. I have been inspired by the stories of strength and faith and hope as people seek to create a life that lets people who love this land stay and enjoy each other. The coach talked about how she is changing the world through hugs. This is a place of Now Activism.
Last month, I was part of a team offering a three day program in Seattle called the Confluence. We gathered people representing the diversity of the community to engage in a reflection about how we could create change by looking inward at our own patterns and habits that keep us from getting traction on the changes we seek. We asked people to be open to learning from others very different from themselves in order to find new possibilities for action. It was a very interesting laboratory for those who chose to step into it. We had the dynamics of the community in the room – and many people bumping into the ways their own judgments and assumptions were limiting them.
One activity we did was a game that was based on having teams of six be given an envelope with puzzle parts that would form six squares. There were two rules – people must be silent and parts had to be taken from and returned to the middle. Each person was to complete his or her own square – and the table work was not done until all six people had their squares. There were multiple ways for the puzzle parts to form 3 or 4 squares – but only one way for there to be six squares. So, someone would finish a square and hold onto it while others would complete theirs – until that person realized that he or she had a part someone else needed. The table could only succeed when people were willing to let go of squares that were completed and put all of the puzzle parts back in to the middle for everyone to use. Once a group had completed the puzzle, they would be told that they were not done until every table had completed the puzzle. They were to go and offer silent support to those still working.
Finally there was one table, working long after every other table was done. Everyone was around them, watching and offering silent support. (In the debrief we had a very interesting discussion about what is really help!) At this last table, they kept rearranging the available squares until finally one of the members in total frustration messed up all the work that they had done. The rest of the room cheered and the table quickly finished the puzzle. This was a very profound learning about holding on to pieces that keep us from seeing the whole. This was profound learning about holding onto ours rather than seeing how we could all succeed together.
As I have been in conversation with people who continue to meet to deepen the learning begun at the Confluence, they said that this was one of the rare times that they had personally encountered so much diversity. More importantly, in that diversity they met people first and foremost as individuals sharing a common connection – rather than as people with a particular role or function or identity tied to work.
I was struck how much people hunger for connection and deep learning and how hard it is in our communities for people to find the place and space to get out of their own boxes to see what is possible in connection with others. I hope that this is Now Activism as well.