You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry. Abraham Lincoln
Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system. Dorothy Day
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ML King Jr.
…if you have someone attacking you, beating you, spitting on you, you have to think of that person. Years ago that person was an innocent child, an innocent little baby. What happened? Did something go wrong? Did someone teach that person to hate, to abuse others? So you try to appeal to the goodness of every human being and you don’t give up. You never give up on anyone. John Lewis
We can make an argument for keeping up an outrage against racism, against injustices, against oppression. We can make an argument for reaching out to the “other.” I have mixed feelings about these approaches. Will you indulge me in a reminiscence about the Women’s Suffrage Movement? It gives me a perspective that you may find interesting.
There were two associations fighting for women’s votes, one headed by Lucy Stone and the other by Susan B. Anthony. In those days it was common for a charismatic founder of an organization to be its president for decades. Lucy Stone’s group drew the ladies, and Susan B. Anthony’s group drew the women. Lucy Stone’s group had a huge membership for the period, and she regularly requested an appointment with the President. Any other organization of that size would have gotten an appointment. Whoever happened to be in office denied the request. This went on for many years. Then Susan B. Anthony’s group chained themselves to the fence in front of the White House, were removed with bolt cutters, taken to prison, and began a hunger strike. All of a sudden Lucy Stone was a moderate. President Wilson accepted an appointment with her. She explained that her organization wanted the president to make sure the next time his party drew up a platform it would include a plank for women’s suffrage. He agreed, and within the next four year cycle women had the right to vote.
Social justice progress happened because of the radicals and it happened because of the moderates. It’s essential to keep an eye on the outrages, to feed the energy, to gain the attention of the nation, and to speak truth to power. I am deeply grateful to radicals, including those I can join and those so far out there that I personally can’t quite be one of them. (Sometimes I can, I do have a civil disobedience arrest back in 2000.) Meanwhile, the work of the moderates can also be powerful. Gandhi said that a person is not our enemy, the enemy is the untruth that the person believes. Not everyone but some people can be reached through gentleness, listening, and communication that’s content-focused rather than tailored to engage emotions. Sometimes moderation can help someone get free from emotions that are getting in the way.
I’m grateful to radicals, and lately I’m pushing myself to take new risks. I’m committed to bridge building, compassion, and all of our potential for growth in knowledge and attitudes.
Stay angry or build bridges? Both
[Just today I learned of Southern Poverty Law Center’s publication, Responding to Everyday Bigotry: Speak Up Handbook. Have a look: http://www.tolerance.org/publication/speak ]