Since our trip to Minneapolis last Saturday as water protectors, I’ve been thinking about activism, yet again. Wondering, again, why so few people come out to the streets with us, though it was heartening to find that around 500 or so did that day. Remembering all the times on the streets of Indianapolis for our weekly peace vigil, where there were usually only three of us, the many times our Keystone Resistance folks were out in all weather, especially the freezing cold, with our Stop the Keystone Pipeline signs. There we had a core group of about 20. Just 3 of us showed up to deliver a petition to Morgan Stanley to stop financing coal projects. I was on my own with a sign about stopping the oil trains. And alone again on the streets and into the bank to close my Chase account because of their support of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). There were other times, though, when more like 100 of us, including Native Americans, gathered to pray and raise awareness about DAPL. The Women’s Marches this year and last did have good crowds of over 1000.
There are always those who say such actions don’t accomplish anything other than to make those who show up feel a little better. I tend to agree, if all one does is come out once a year and doesn’t do anything else. Being persistent is important. Being creative and doing different things is, too. Writing letters to the editor, speaking in church, telling stories.
Another part of this came out when I created a Facebook group called Quakers Welcome Spiritual Seekers. I appreciated some comments by James Funches. “After reading the pinned post and skimming the posts below. I’m left feeling that the stated intent is entirely missed. Or I could be wrong. I get that maybe the posts are showing faith in action but, one could be active in social causes without any spiritual connection. This is an issue I find when I’ve visited Quakers and online as well . I rarely get a glimpse of the Spiritual side just activism. I’m not writing from a negative place just sharing my experience and view from where I’m at.”
I thought about that, but kept posting things about faith and activism. Sometime later he also wrote: “I’m getting some understanding of difference Quakerism vs my background that practice or lived faith plays vs doctrines or theology. I now see a little better how the activism of many Quakers comes out of the spiritual experience . I would say that to an outsider or seeker it can feel intimidating or be misunderstood if one hasn’t read some of the writings of say Woolman , GF , Margaret Fell, etc. who speak specifically to the spiritual condition. I read a bit before I ever approached online or attended a meeting for worship and it’s still been an issue for me. I’m more comfortable with my understanding now than I was months ago but I wonder how many may not make it that far. Between the activism they see which might not be a drive for them and the varying spiritual focus of different Friends from Christian and beyond.”
Then Brian Hall wrote, “So are political activities ‘spiritual seeking’?” My response was “That may depend on how you define political activities. And I think the intention you bring to the activity is key, as I tried to express in today’s post about #NoDAPL and the effect these activities have had on my own spiritual life.” One of the most meaningful things for me recently was to see and experience the importance of the spirituality of the water protectors. This is fundamentally important to this kind of work.
I’m thinking a lot more about this now, because the political institutions we had relied on as a way to address social concerns are being corrupted. I believe that means we are going to have to make more use of public actions to raise our concerns. The risks of speaking out are also increasing, as those in political power are criminalizing dissent.
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“ was the title of the commencement address Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered at Oberlin College in 1965.
“There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in our world today.”
Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke before Martin Luther King did at the March on Washington in 1963:
When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those most tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
So I encourage all of us to seriously reflect on how our own lives are speaking, or not.
Rev. William Barber says,
“So my prayer is that we will refuse to live below the snake line. We’ve got to make this Reconstruction grow to full term, to full life. We can’t allow a snake to bite this reconstruction and cause it to die, so we’re gonna get it above the snake line. Quakers, it’s time to get back into the public square. If you believe that there’s life above the snake line, it’s time to get back in the public square.
While I’m walking to get above the snake line, it might get hard. I might have to go through some spiked teeth that are trying to poison me. But I’m going above the snake line. I’m going above the snake line, and while I’m making my way, I’m gonna say, “Walk with me, Lord. Walk with me, Lord. Walk with me, Lord. While I’m on this tedious journey, going to be above the snake line, Lord, walk with me.” And if God walks with us, we can do just as they did in the First Reconstruction, and just as they did in the Second Reconstruction, we can be the generation that takes this generation above the snake line. It’s our time. It’s our time.”