Written by Rachel Olivia O’Connor (drawing upon C.S. Lewis)
When concerned citizens mobilize, most often they assemble on the basis of morality. Yes, the issue of survival frequently comes to the fore, but there’s almost always — with that — a voicing or thinking of what’s right and wrong vis-a-vis what’s taking place. Tainted water in Flint? Intentionally exposing citizens to toxicity? That ain’t right! That’s how activists operate internally.
This piece is written for the benefit of well-meaning activists. Proactive concerned citizens who, in my view, are in dire need of adding to their mental arsenal, their outlook. For they must do more than mobilize merely on the basis of morality. Whether they’re organizing a March on Washington, or recruiting souls for movement in solidarity locally. They’re — we are — all missing out on something crucial. Two things, actually, one of which I will focus on in this Part I of my article, with the idea of adding arrows to the activist quiver.
Think of activists, if you will, as a fleet of ships in formation, moving with a particular goal in mind. The voyage will be a success only if the ships avoid collision with one another. Also for success, each ship must be seaworthy, and have her engines in good order. Personally. It’s not good enough to be fighting the good fight alongside others. All sorts of considerations must be made. Are you treating colleagues as equals? Are you being civil to the strangers you confront in the process of civic engagement? Are you yourself nourishing yourself properly? And so on. All that matters as much as the inroads one is trying to carve out with fellow activists.
If the ships have ongoing collisions during movement in solidarity, they will not remain seaworthy very long. And if their steering gears are out of order no vessel will be able to avoid collisions. And yet, in my experience, activists do not see the role they play vis-a-vis the burnout of others, the dwindling of hope among certain demographics they are attempting to help, their own ability to be a long distance runner, and so on.
You can also think of humanity as a band playing a tune. To get good results, you need two things. Each player’s individual instrument must be in tune and also must come in at the right moment in an optimal way, so as to blend with all the others properly. It’s not sufficient to be passionate about the tune that the group is tackling. One must — to borrow from sailing terms — tack on appropriately, sail into the wind in just the right way for the tune to be beautiful.
I trust that this makes sense. And I hope that readers who are not clear on my thrust here will contact me for elaboration. For the above touches upon something highly problematic in the activist realm. And it’s a dynamic that’s not just a challenge for concerned citizens today. Rather, it’s something that has plagued those wanting to bring about institutional changes in all quarters worldwide forever. Plagued well-meaning souls potentially always, when the stakes have been high, and everyone fighting the good fight has been running on high energy to get something done together… before it’s too late. Revolutionary groups throughout history have witnessed their radical agendas put the ends before the means routinely. With abominable results, yes?
But there is one thing I have not yet taken into account. I have not asked you to look at where the fleet is trying to get to, or what piece of music the band is trying to play. The instruments might be all in tune and might all come in at the right time, but even so the performance would not be a success if they had been engaged to provide dance music and actually played nothing but Dead Marches. And however well the fleet sailed, its voyage would be a failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived at Calcutta.
Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonizing the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man and woman and all of Mother Earth’s lovely creatures were made for; what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play, something given short shrift in these days of everyone being on the run. Obsolete visions are embraced on automatic.
The third point I’ll save for another day, submitting it for posting contingent upon reader interest.
Rachel Olivia O’Connor is a freelance journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.