By Peter Schaller
In 1992, I was young and green, very Green.
I was living in Richmond, Virginia, studying at Virginia Commonwealth University and organizing a local chapter of the Virginia Green Party on the side. A handful of idealistic students had revived the barely breathing Richmond Greens and we had converted them into the James River Greens, full of youthful vigor and oblivious idealism.
Everything was grooving along until we slammed into Earth Day. I had always felt that Earth Day was a hoax, just like most holidays. Why wait until April 22nd to honor the earth? We had been invited to participate in a large activity, hosted by the city of Richmond and we were debating, in the true consensus style inherent to the Greens, about whether or not it would be appropriate. It would be a publicity stunt, photo opportunity that would probably leave mountains of garbage in the aftermath.
Without warning, we were hopelessly divided.
The only thing we agreed on was that we would not have formal participation in the event. Two alternatives emerged and one by one, each member of the group began to choose a side. Some of us were proposing that we simply wander off into some abandoned area on Earth Day, to plant trees silently and anonymously.
The other group was led by Mike, a newer member of the James River Greens driven by charismatic and chaotic energy. Mike proposed that we protest Earth Day. His idea was to buy sheets at the thrift store, paint protest slogans and hang them from the foot bridge that crossed the James River just south of Oregon Hill. The protest would be visible from the official event and would attract media attention, he argued. Several others followed his lead and began to make plans for their rogue celebration.
At that moment, in the heat of discussion, I was struck with a moment of clarity.
I realized that, as activists, we are constantly facing alternative actions to promote the causes about which we are so passionate. Up until that moment, I had participated in a number of protest marches in different parts of the country, but I began to see that my limited energy could be so much better used in positive action, rather than in protesting and confrontation. The truth is, some folks thrive on confrontation, but confrontation rarely changes minds or hearts. Protesting requires energy and resources that could be better utilized in constructive activities.
At this stage in my life, with almost 30 years of activism under my belt, I am entirely convinced that lasting change only comes through intimate, personal relationships.
We have to get close to people, if we want to inspire the process of change. Confrontational ranting on Facebook does not create change. We change the world through positive action and example. Activism is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle choice. If we are committed to working for peace, justice and equality, it must be reflected in everything we do, say, eat, purchase, think, breathe and dream.
And so, here we are, facing a monumental crisis in the United States. The election of Donald Trump is not the problem, it is merely the symptom of the moral, spiritual and social emergency that has been fermenting for years. He is like a boil, coming to the surface, signaling a terrible infection in the depths of our culture. The United States is a nation confused and divided. We have lost our moral reference, having elected (yes, we all elected him) a man who has proven to have little moral fortitude. But here is the tragic irony in this: Donald Trump is just what we need.
Can’t we see? This man is exactly what we have been waiting for. He has finally arrived.
We have spent the past 20? 30? 50? years gaining needless weight (70% of the adult population in the United States is overweight), becoming lazy (only 36% of Americans participate in civic activities or volunteering) and growing more apathetic (our political system has been sold off to special interests).
Entitlement is our new religion.
We have gotten used to having everything we want, when we want it. And now, we are faced with the brutal reality of our comfort. This is the wakeup call we have been waiting for. We are the answer we have been waiting for.
The events during Trump’s first few days in the White House have elicited action in every corner of the United States and perhaps the world. It will require positive action in the face of adversity to ensure environmental, social and economic justice. It will require the concerted and compassionate actions of each of us, to overcome hatred, racism, xenophobia, discrimination and further destruction of the natural world.
It will take more than marching. Marching can be helpful, but only if it is a precursor to more direct and substantial action. We must be prepared to sacrifice our comfort for the common good.
Here are some actions that can be taken immediately to counterbalance the wave of negativity that has crashed over us in the past week:
- Teach children (ours and others) to respect everyone
- Volunteer at local organizations that provide support to vulnerable groups, such as immigrants or the homeless
- Donate to local organizations that provide support to vulnerable groups
- Start an interfaith committee at your church to promote dialogue and understanding
- Volunteer at your local school or library, to teach children about cultural diversity
- Support local officials who show integrity in their work
- Run for local office
- Start a community garden
- If nothing is going on in your community, start something
Remember, no action is too small. We are at a critical juncture in our collective history. If we continue to remain complacent, we empower injustice and oppression. If we rise to collective and compassionate action, we can take back our social, economic and political systems.
Let us have the courage and the commitment to act today.
Article photo: (source)
Editor: Dana Gornall