Make an Appointment for Activism

By Sharon Groves, Ph.D.  and Lisbeth Melendez Rivera

Like many of you, we have sat in dismay and astonishment while the President, the House and Senate Republicans, and a right leaning Supreme Court have systematically attacked our community and the communities we love.  Just this past week we saw a tax bill pass the Senate that will devastate poor and middle class people, a Muslim ban that will even further enshrine racism and Islamophobia into the fabric of our nation, the reassertion of a warped theocracy into our lives under the false name of “religious freedom,” more steps taken toward the dismantling of DACA, the granting of oil companies freedom to destroy native sacred lands, not to mention an impending nuclear confrontation with North Korea looming on the horizon.  And this is just this week!  

Sometimes it feels that the minute we start to address one issue, we are lurched into a nightmare game of whack a mole with the speed set at max.

If this scenario feels impossible to you, know that it does for us as well.  We feel deeply the chastisement of those who say we are too fractured, too scattered, too undisciplined for the moment.  We can however have some compassion for the place we we find ourselves.  It has always been easier to take away our rights than it is to build a world where we are all liberated.  We are fighting an uphill battle; and, we simply don’t have the luxury to pick and choose who’s humanity merits more attention.

If we begin with an ethics of love, it becomes impossible to say that one person’s liberation is worth more than another.  We have to be in it together.  As Gloria Anzaldua and AnaLouise Keating taught us years ago, “The knowledge that we are in symbiotic relationship to all that exists and co-creators of ideologies – attitudes, beliefs and cultural values – motivates us to act collaboratively.”

But how do we act collaboratively when bombarded every moment with a new crisis that threatens to rip apart the whole?  We neither can be everywhere, nor are we effective when we try to be.  

We need new way of showing up for each other that are different than the singular issue based focus that many of us learned was the way to be active.  Here’s a strategy we are trying out and suggest you might consider.

Organize your time around availability.  

There will always be moments and there will always be issues that speak more directly to us than others.  You may have employment or primary volunteer investments that orients you more toward one community or set of issues than another.  This is good and necessary.  However, we also need to build a muscle around collective engagement across issues. Imagine the multiplying effect we could have if people agreed to show up for each other in the spirit of human liberation, no matter the issue.  Thus if it is Monday it may be William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign and if it’s Tuesday it may be to protest the Supreme Court decision to legalize Trump’s travel ban.  The point would be that you, and perhaps your constituency, make an appointment to show up for each other.  

adrienne maree brown in her influential book Emergent Strategy asks the question,  “How do we turn our collective full-bodied intelligence towards collaboration, if that is the way we will survive?”  We want to suggest that making a date on the calendar to be present to the movement is one way.  This may mean that you have a different role to play.  If you’re used to going to things when you’re asked to speak, you may find yourself bolstering up the numbers of the crowd.  If you’re used to creating the organizing strategy for an event you may end up taking orders from someone else.  The point is that we listen to the need, make a date on the calendar, and show up.   

Religious people instinctively know how to do this.  Unless our congregation is tiny, we know it is unfeasible to show up with a casserole every time someone is in need of help.  We don’t say  that Julie with cancer deserves a hot meal but Danielle who just had a baby does not.  We do it all because as people of faith who lead with love, have no choice. But it is impossible to ask such attention of one person alone.  To ensure that everyone is covered we form committees to make sure that food is delivered to people when they need it and we show up not by choosing the people we like but by choosing the date, in advance, that we are available.  If we have close friends that need our help we will definitely offer more but not at the expense of our duties to others in need, even others we don’t know.  This way we practice caring for the whole community knowing they will care for us when our time comes.  We organize collectively around the most precious gift we have to offer, our time.  

We believe that in this critical moment when so much is being dismantled and at such an extraordinary pace we need to bolster our commitment to each other and the movements that are working for our liberation.  We both come out of  LGBTQ justice movements and are inclined because of identity and affiliation to show up in those spaces but our commitment is to stretch ourselves to show up for all people suffering injustice.

For now our pledge is to show up twice a week on the ground for at least two hours for the work of justice beyond our paid work.  Lisbeth is committing to Tuesday and Thursday and Sharon is committing to Sunday and Monday.  We know that sometimes we won’t be able to do this and we will work to find someone who will take our place.  We know that sometimes we won’t be showing up in our home town because of travel and at other times we will show up much more than twice a week.  We want people to know that they can count on us on the days we have set to be active, no matter the presenting justice issue.  And, we want to honor our need to take time off from movement work to help keep us more sane, more connected to our families and friends, so that we can be more fully present to the struggle to liberate all of us.    

What is your pledge?  

Sharon Groves, Ph.D. Vice President for Partner Engagement, Auburn Seminary.

Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, MDiv Candidate, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities

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