Are the protests and marches the new normal around the world in 2017?
I’ve attended plenty of marches in my day, beginning in the 1980s when I took my children, the youngest in his stroller, to protest nuclear weapons.
The largest by far was the Women’s March in DC the day after Donald’s inauguration. Wearing our pink knitted pussy hats, we roared like mother lions.
Perhaps the most polite march was the smaller group of clergy and religious leaders of many different faiths that I joined on April 4th to remember the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. We marched in straight lines, smiling and chanting all the way to the White House.
The #taxmarch on Saturday, April 15th was far more noisy. In more than 150 cities around the country, people took to the streets to demand that Donald release his tax returns.
Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Representatives Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., had a very appreciative crowd when they called for Donald’s impeachment. I was heartened as the speakers at the podium in front of the U.S. Capitol passionately connected the dots between all of the issues — tax reform, ethics, climate justice, a livable wage, immigration and refugees, and more — but the best speaker was President Trump himself.
The entire event was filled with a mixture of outrage, humor and creative energy. Walking among the crowd, snapping pictures, I felt the camaraderie even though I knew no one.
Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for a “radical revolution in values” and beseeched us to see our common humanity; our interconnectedness. His profound truth — that we’re “tied together in a single garment of destiny” — is the radical revolution still waiting to be ignited in our human spirit. This truth seems to be just as elusive today as we grapple with the laundry lists of issues that scream for our attention!
Why do I march?
Aren’t we stuck in the past with these marches focusing on the symptoms rather than the transformational change that we so desperately need?
I’ve heard that marching may be mobilizing but it isn’t organizing, and we need to organize to effect real change. I’ve heard that marching certainly won’t accomplish the goal of getting Donald to turn over his tax returns. A friend criticized the #taxmarch because its goal was not as worthy as the goal of stopping the bombing in Syria.
Those thoughts certainly have merit. If I expected concrete results from the marches — other than the obvious benefits that I enjoy from walking and socializing — I’d have to agree. We may never see Donald’s tax returns, but there is much more involved and unseen by the naked eye.
Marching is worthwhile in its own right. I commend everyone who participates, and hope those who don’t find other actions that are satisfying. The physical exertion involved in marching is cathartic and helps me express my feelings.
Marching is worthwhile because it gets us off our couches and empowers us to engage with issues. Many Americans are content to be mere observers, not even invested enough to vote. Our democracy may not survive without many more Americans actively engaged – marching, calling Congress, and voting. Any type of nonviolent engagement is positive and shouldn’t be discouraged.
Marching is worthwhile because it sends a public message, one the public won’t hear by simply reading the newspaper or watching social media. Regardless of whether Donald even heard the tax protesters calling for him to release his tax returns, many Americans and people around the world heard. Like the circles that spread when a stone is thrown into the calm lake, the marchers touched many spirits who will, in turn, touch many more in some way. We don’t need to know how or to what effect.
Marching is worthwhile because the very act invigorates everyone who participates, reaffirming that we are not alone but acting as a community. Strength comes from community in incomprehensible ways.
Marching is worthwhile because it spreads the spirit of change. I’m reminded of the story of the Hundredth Monkey. I shared that story in a lecture in Gaza in 2012 and I wonder if it made any sense. I believe in the phenomenon that the scientists witnessed in the 1950s on that Pacific island, a phenomenon that spread around the world when the critical mass was reached. We don’t know how, but the evidence is clear. I believe that the energy manifested at marches is similarly building towards that critical mass.
The future in non-linear terms
As a city planner, I was educated in the linear model of setting goals, preparing plans, and then implementing the plans. Of course, there were many steps involved, but it all proceeded from A to B to C. One action led to another, and the process was rational and defensible, if the public was duly invited into the process. We knew where we wanted to end up, and the future we wanted to build. There was some measure of comfort in that way of thinking, and perhaps a bit of arrogance. We even thought ourselves prepared for the unexpected and had contingency plans ready to pull out when needed.
While there’s still some merit in that way of planning and thinking, I’ve come to appreciate that our survival depends on adapting and learning to think in non-linear terms.
My personal revelation didn’t come as a bolt of lightening — an “AHA” moment. Instead, it crept up on me slowly over the past 30+ years. First, I wanted to connect the dots. I was on the look out for the invisible common threads that bind us all.
Second, I wanted to tear down the metaphorical silos that keep our minds and creativity locked up. Everywhere I looked, primarily in the fields of environmental, land use and planning law, I saw silos. Regulatory and administrative silos, issue silos, political silos, and much more.
Third, I wanted to learn new creative ways of looking at these challenges. I was overjoyed whan I found Kate Raworth’s Doughnut.
Today, I realize that Dr. King’s “radical revolution of values” may be as simple and as difficult as #LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions).
Not the syrupy goody two shoes type of love. Not a naive and guilt-ridden type of love. Certainly not a passionate Eros type of love.
#LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions) opens me to the empathy and concern and vulnerability that provides a space within me for my neighbor. That we are “tied together in a single garment of destiny” cannot be denied. The ravages of climate change may perhaps be the most visible symbol of this truth, but we can find evidence in every facet of our lives. Americans are tied to the refugees’ destiny as tightly as we are connected to our parents and siblings. The Citigroup bankers and U.S. Legislators who are racing through the revolving doors in each direction are intimately connected to the homeless perched over the heating grates on K Street.
Just as the monkeys learned to wash the sand off their fruit, the evolutionary progress that humans need (and need very quickly if we’re going to survive) is the radical revolution of values to encompass #LoveThyNeighbor (no exceptions). This won’t happen with linear thinking or actions, I’m convinced, because it requires a transformational shift within.
The nonlinear thinking embodies an openness to new ideas from every source, a willingness to be comfortable with the unknown, a greater humility than most of us can muster, and a commitment to model the energy and spirit we trust affirms our neighbors as it affirms us.
So why will I join the March for Science in DC this Saturday, and then the Peoples Climate March on April 29? The simple answer — I’m looking for the Hundredth Monkey. The truthful answer — I feel energized with the spirit and creativity at each march.