ThrTThThriving in Toucgh TImeBecoming Part of the Solution
Whenever I need some perspective on life, I turn to my friend and mentor, Grace Lee Boggs. At 96, she says she now thinks in terms of centuries, not just decades. Grace is a philosopher and writer who has been a community organizer in multiple movements for over 70 years. I know of no greater authority than Grace when it comes to matters of equity, justice, and hope.
Last month, Grace was asked to reflect on the Occupy Wall Street movement. She said, “People are righteously and rightfully protesting the domination of the culture by the corporations, and the suffering that it’s inducing. But out of the protests…. they have to begin doing something that doesn’t just depend on exposing the enemy. They have to begin becoming (part of) the solution themselves…”
As I watched the events of Occupy Oakland unfold, I was saddened by the fact that the police had to take such forceful action against a largely peaceful demonstration. I was also saddened that a handful of protesters were making the entire movement look bad. It reminded me of street actions that took place in the early 90’s around HIV/AIDS.
At that time, I was on the community advisory board to the AIDS Clinical Trials Group, which oversaw all of the HIV medicines that were in development. This was years before any effective treatments were developed, and the life/death urgency was palpable. Many took to the streets to protest and some took more drastic actions such as chaining themselves to federal buildings. I remember how some street activists accused me of consorting with the enemy, and they continually tried to shut down my meetings with researchers.
It took a lot of work, but many of my colleagues on the street eventually saw the value in working from both sides of the fence. By combining strategies, we put enough pressure on the government and industry to push the development of HIV treatments. Indeed, that activism influenced the entire health care industry, as it is now an accepted practice for patients to question their doctors, do their own research, and be partners in and advocates for their own health care.
I know of a number of people who support the Occupy movement but aren’t compelled to pitch a tent or hit the streets. Short of that, they feel at a loss for ways to engage. Like Grace, I believe there are many ways to be part of the solution. My friend Joe, for example, organized a 12-hour meditation circle at the Occupy Oakland site to bring a centeredness and different perspective. A number of people, including myself, closed our accounts at the megabanks and put our money in local community banks and credit unions. Others, like my parents, have started growing their own food. Some of my clients have forsaken the big box stores for their supplies and choosing local vendors, even though it costs more money.
This global movement toward civic engagement is empowering us to stop complaining and start taking action. Talk to your family, friends and neighbors and see what small steps you can take to become part of the solution.
For more information on Grace, please go to www.boggscenter.organd http://vimeo.com/search/videos/search:grace%20lee%20boggs/st/30e01617
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