As per Margaret Mead’s storied advice, I have never really doubted that “a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.”
Along those lines, I am nearly (but not entirely) sure that I didn’t do an involuntary victory fist pump in the grocery store parking lot when I walked by a poster for the 350.org People’s Climate March this morning. I deeply hope that it will not be a small number of people who gather in New York City and in solidarity around the world this September 20th and 21st. Because, if a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, just imagine what a LARGE group of thoughtful, committed people can do! Anything. Everything.
Whatever the political goals and gains of a people’s movement, I believe that the greatest true success of such actions is the awareness of a community, of being one of many who believe and act in joyful expectation of what ways of being can yet be brought into the wider world. I am hungry for this sense of being part of and party to something greater than myself, for the reassurance that my hopes can braid into others and, together, we can bring about the sorts of changes necessary to enable the systems of the world and the patterns of our daily lives to stop harming and start healing the planet for all our sakes.
With of this hope-glittering belief, all of my midnight worries and sunlit bursts of dazzling joy regarding the better world I strive towards in all things, with my own aforewritten admonishment to just show up for such things where merely being a numbered participant really does matter, and all that I want to not feel so alone in wanting to change the world, I feel a little bittersweet that I will not be marching in New York, or anywhere else, that particular weekend to demonstrate for the causes of thoughtful love and committed passion that are necessary to change the world.
Instead, I’ll be witnessing the wedding of some dear friends. It is impossible for me to even think of their wedding without smiling, so I am sure I have made the right choice. There is no choice; their commitment to each other is simply where I must be present.
I say, too often and not often enough, that I am friends with the greatest people on earth, but it is in the lives of my loved ones that I see how many good and glorious actions and ways of being there are in the world. Most simply, my people know themselves and are true to those selves—such joy and honesty are the best tools I know for building a better world out of the best parts of our present reality. Most of the good being done in the world spirals out from well-aligned love and self-awareness. I believe this amalgam is what Margaret Mead meant by “thoughtful.”
I am absolutely in favor of all kinds of nonviolent actions and movements and protests to draw attention and educate and advocate for environmental and social issues. By any and all means—from letters to the editor to Twitter to running off to the wilds to joining a CSA to street theater and marching bands to poetry to blockades to parades to living as simply as Thoreau to donating your corporate muckety-muck wages to the causes of your heart to whatever sparks your soul that “YES! What I want and believe and hope for is possible and I am part of making it so!”—I love to see people rising up and coming into their own, of waiting only as long as it takes to hear the truth of their heart and act in the light of that clarity.
To me, a marriage between wonderful people is as great an act and action of faith in the better world we can build as anything public and political. It is an act of love, a thoughtful commitment to the unknown future, and an honest articulation of changing one’s way of being due to the truth of the individual heart. In truth, I believe all our actions and uses of time and treatment of the people around us are manifestations of an individual’s way of being in and hopes for the world.
To that end, as much as policies and politicians and fossil fuel executives and cultural nasties who foment the feelings of inadequacy that pressure us into lives that are untrue to our hearts and souls and whoever else shapes the world, whoever and whatever we protest against and demand change of, regarding the climate and everything else, what most needs to change is us, each of us, individually. This will lead to collective change—see above regarding small groups and social change—but it is on our own shoulders, souls, and ways of being that changes must happen. We need, each of us, to come to a marriage of sorts between our hopeful hearts and our corporeal lives.
Change is hard and messy and uncertain. It is one thing to advocate for divestment from fossil fuel industries, and another to divest oneself of unquestioning reliance on fossil fuels by riding a bike more and using computers, phones, airplanes and microwaves less. It is, perhaps, easier to commit oneself to a political ideology than a personal code—I will never forget the people I knew in college who bought cheap materials from Wal-Mart to make anti-capitalism shirts for a WTO protest. Anyone can justify their actions to themselves, of course, but I such hypocrisy makes me physically uncomfortable.
I dearly hope that the People’s Climate March turns some important tides. That political leaders watch and listen and join, that change is wrought on deep levels in everyone’s souls and we come around in a year’s time to more and more solar power and public transportation and simpler lives with fewer, but more useful, long-lived, meaningful and beautiful possessions, that we come together to create a more perfect and just world. That people have come see their own lives in the rising tides and erratic weather and square their fears with their hopes and act kindly, honestly and accordingly to build lives around what they hold dear. When there is news coverage of how this particular weekend in September is something like a Freedom Summer or Stonewall or March on Washington, I will perhaps regret that I was not present for a big moment in The Revolution.
On the other hand, I keep a note on my wall that reads: “life is the action.” We do not have just a handful of times to show up and demonstrate our commitment to bettering the world. We have a lifetime of committing to the love and truth of our hearts and the life changes required to be faithful to those ideals. I believe the smaller and personal will likely, in the long run, trump the big and public acts, both in terms of how we truly change the world and in where we find our satisfaction and joy.
All the same, if you can get to New York City, please do. Sign up here: http://peoplesclimate.org. Thank you.
(Poster by Josh MacPhee, grabbed by me from www.justseeds.org)