The day after the election may be a downer for people like me who were seduced by the adrenalin of this election season. Mornings will continue to dawn and the progress of late fall to winter will continue. Eventually I will be coaxed into looking around at the world we live in and reminded that a few things may be different, but a lot stays the same, a nation that controls half the world’s military might including nuclear arms, a global economic crisis, an impending world food crisis and serious environmental challenge are in front of every one of us. Some people are praying and this will help. Activists some of whom pray too, will be wise to take a few moments to reflect on what their priorities should be. Unless I have a longer view I may fall into a very long depression because so little has changed.
In the 1968 election between Nixon and Humphrey I refused to vote and to this day friends challenge me for this act of civic mistrust in the hard won right to vote. Although I didn’t believe elections were a bad thing I was so disappointed that Hubert Humphrey, the nominee, persisted in the rhetoric of war. The Viet Nam war seemed to have no end despite the intense work of that pivotal year, 1968. When Richard Nixon was elected with even fewer credentials for peacemaking and a “secret plan” I got depressed.
Admittedly some of my depression may have been due to working in a war situation for many years and my unrelenting pace to get it stopped. Depression of course has many sources not all of which can be blamed on an election or a war. All in all I think that constitutional change based on one person one vote that is actually counted, preferably without the need for lawyers, is a better way to move forward than relying upon the whims of a combination of oligarchs, big money, and military power. Those big three already have disproportionate influence even when one person one vote works reasonably well.
But that is the big challenging picture. I am not powerless nor am I ready to cede important matters to the elected ones. Real change largely comes from the bottom and the participation of people, which at the same time, is not to say that all local change work is necessarily good. A group of thugs, land grabbers and polluters can change a community to function out of sickness or fear. It is one thing to have a long term vision. Doing the nitty gritty work to get there is another. It takes people who are devoted enough to attend meetings, do all kinds of messy tasks and put forward an authentic face of hope. This election has already shown that realistic, disciplined organizing works.
We shouldn’t have to wait for elections to get down to work, nor should we have to wait for elections to ignite our hope and vision. Elections are messy and often imperfect. So are our local efforts for change and we easily run out of energy. Closing a local military base or recruiting office, pressuring an irresponsible corporation to stop producing toxic products or overturning terrorist style interrogation tactics – takes five to twenty years or more. It transcends election cycles. Abolition of slavery took more than 100 years and in fact it is still not over. The U.S. still has to make good on the 40 acres and a mule promise. Change comes from good strategy carried out by a trained team of people who try all kinds of tactics from delegations and discussion, to education, and nonviolent direct action.
Most change work has to do with various arts of communication. Some can be learned in institutions with respectable names but the integration of symbols with words, actions, humour, and perseverance is always being written in a fresh way in the field. Much of the real work is done by people who have not benefited from studying in respectable institutions. Together we invent on the fly in real life situations.
I have a simple rule for myself in the development of tactics that build on a long term strategy. Two questions keep me on track. Will my words or actions give the people on the other side something to think about or even talk about over coffee? And, will my actions awaken positive and uplifting emotional responses from the heart? Maybe you could call this the Stoltzfus Rule of Hearts and Minds.
The long term personal demands of the work should not be easily glossed over. Hard facts of injustice must be rigorously researched, judgements need to be made and a vision articulated so that it can be grasped by people. Negotiations and change only comes at the final stages when money, wealth, power, policy and the common good are put in their proper place. Along the way I may be tempted to engage in diatribes about how evil someone has become. I hope that I don’t choose that track but when I do I know another voice within will remind me that the spirit of nonviolence has been violated and I have capitulated to messages worthy of negative political advertisers. With time and good critics I will get back on track.
At least as big a challenge will be the fashioning of a real team to get on with the work. Genuine team players recognize strengths and weaknesses within themselves and co-workers. Team diversity hopefully includes people who are good at organizing the data, doing competent analytical work, maintaining team life and at least one out front visionary and coordinator who sees the road ahead. The more diversity of age and ethnic life in the context of gender balance, the more competent the team will be over time. Team members also need to understand how they and others behave in crisis or emergency moments of opportunity. There are ways to train together and prepare for this.
It is a rare local community that does not have at least one expression of the four global threats that are upon us, militarism and the environmental, economic, food crisis. If twenty percent of our congregations, mosques, and synagogues would determine as a highest priority to form and support action teams, in five years the world would be on the road to recovery. Over ten years we would see larger solutions beginning to form out of a collage of our efforts. There would be fewer corporations and money managers who try to corner destructive control for quick profit, fewer military bases, more protection for the earth, and the pain of hunger could be narrowed. We will know that the spirit is in this by the fruits of these efforts.
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