May 6, 2009
Sitting in the Atlanta Airport with some random thoughts. Marianne and I worked with a pretty amazing group of LGBT Funders this past Sunday, talking about systems thinking and how it can be used to create strategies to move the community forward in these economic times. It was a wonderful and very inspiring session, in large part because of the amazing people in the room and their willingness to grab hold and go deep right away.
I then went and spent a couple of days with old friends in Birmingham, Alabama – a wonderful time both because Dorothy and Cindy are such amazing humans, because we’ve now known each other for 20 years (we met in 1989 when I was helping bring the NAMES Project Quilt around the country), and because being someplace else often brings new things to light.
One of those was that we went Monday and tried to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which is, unfortunately for me, closed on Mondays), and instead walked through the Kelly Ingram Park across the street, the former staging area for large civil rights demonstrations where fire hoses and police dogs were set on the demonstrators, most of whom were children. The park is now full of amazing statues of the demonstrators and has been dedicated as “A Place of Revolution and Reconciliation,” words which are read throughout the park and at every entrance. The park is across from the Civil Rights Institute, kitty corner from the 16th Street Baptist Church and around the corner from the motel where King and others stayed in Birmingham. This is important history to me, and I’ve spent much time over the years reading these stories, learning about the people and events. To my friends, on the other hand, these were people they knew – or know now. The father of one of the girls who was killed in the bombing is a photographer they know well. Dorothy’s uncle was one of Rosa Parks’ attorneys – and almost every name and every picture is someone she knew or knows. The stories and people are alive and contextualized as she talks about them. It is not history from a book or a documentary, but a part of her life.
As, when the movie Milk was playing last year, many of the “characters” are people I know. Real people who were involved in making change.
So again and again and again, it is people’s stories that light my imagination, that show that change is possible, and prove that resilience is all around us. I’m grateful for the generosity that allows people to share their stories. And am walking through the airport in a different way right now – wondering what stories these thousands of people, heading someplace or another, carry.
April 22, 2009
For a while, I’ve been fairly unsuccessfully trying to create a space in my apartment that works both for my heart and for my head. My meditation cushion is there – as well as my altar and poetry and spiritual books. It also has my desk, computer and two bookshelves overstuffed with books and journals about power, white privilege, race, class, genocide, conflict and social issues. If I’m really honest about it, it’s the most chaotic room in my apartment.
I’ve been intentionally trying to create this space because I’m trying to bring these two parts of my life together. In part because I’ve been noticing what seems like a split in progressive groups. For some of us, talking about the ways society is structured to benefit some groups and deny those benefits to others rolls off our tongue and is a framework that holds great resonance. Others are more comfortable talking about the ways we’re all connected – oneness and love are foundational ways we understand the world. There are a few wonderful examples I know (or know about) of people who fully integrate both. But I don’t know that many. Most people seem to lean in one direction or the other.
So for those of us who lean toward one or the other, talk of structure without spirit – or of spirit without structure – seems incomplete. As if the speaker is missing a huge part of our experience and belief. They may even seem to deny what we think of as reality. We tend to then move more vehemently to our “side.”
From a Buddhist perspective, reality can be described as being made up of two truths in which we live simultaneously – the relative (or historic) truth and the ultimate truth. The relative truth describes the world in which there are deep separations – it is the truth that describes a world with oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia and many other divisions. The ultimate truth describes the world in which there is no separation, in which we are one. The understanding is that both these truths co-exist – though we may only be aware of one.
The question I’ve been having (and don’t yet have many answers to) is this: How do we become aware of both, in our work toward social justice and social change, so that we build an authentic bridge between the two – so that anyone, no matter their leaning, can walk with us as we talk about structure or spirit? So that no one feels their truth is left behind. I’m wondering where others are in thinking about building that bridge – or would advise about setting up that room.
April 16, 2009
Riding into IISC this morning by scooter, I was reflecting on some things that have happened in the last week as a way of getting ready for a conversation I;ll be in this afternoon about how to bring more social media tools into our consulting practice. As we are working globally with groups (among which is a beginning field of Philanthropy for Social Justice and Peace) and are attending to our carbon footprint, we’re looking at ways to deepen our practice in this regard.
A few things came to mind. I was reflecting on a number of important things I’ve seen happen for advocates over the past week on Twitter. The Moldovan “twitter revolution” that came about because six friends were drinking coffee, discussing how upset they were about what they saw as election fraud and decided to try to start a flash mob, gathering their friends to protest. They were expecting a few hundred to come but by the time they got to the square, 20,000 people were waiting – and the votes had to be recounted. (Click here for an article about this.)
Or the Egyptian blogger, journalist and human rights activist Wael Abbas, who was arrested over the weekend and tweeted constantly everything that happened to him. This was passed around on twitter so that he ended up with hundreds more people following him by the end of the day – and was released. As Ervin Staub talks about in The Psychology of Good and Evil: Why Children, Adults and Groups Help and Harm Others, this was a powerful demonstration of the importance of bystanders actively witnessing atrocities and making it known that they are – in this case, in a virtual space.
And then there was the Twitter and Facebook firestorm that happened over the weekend about Amazon’s “de-ranking” books with gay and lesbian content. Within a few hours, the story was the top story on twitter and (from my small section of Facebook) was also one of the most frequent things being written about on Facebook. People were quickly signing petitions, passing along information about how to write to Amazon.com and starting a boycott until they changed the policy. Within about 24 hours, Amazon.com came out with an apology and has promised to fix it. (Click here for an article about this.)
While I personally am waiting until the books are all ranked again before I’ll shop from Amazon, it’s clear to me what a difference social media tools can make. They’re fabulous for spreading news quickly and for organizing a response.
And what about how to work together virtually – beyond quick responses to situations? What are the tools for that? I’ve been thinking a lot about this – more to come!