Knit Together, People.
I can’t listen any more when people express dismay about gun violence, about corruption, about gridlock in Washington.
Because I only want to say that if you’re not working to knit your community together so tightly that it can stand in the streets and obstruct the regular working of the power structure that allows these things, if your people can’t put themselves in harm’s way in order to profess their beliefs, if you’re not bracing to withstand the shocks of SWAT teams and police dogs and targeted arrests that inevitably follow organized protest campaigns, if you’re not doing anything, I can’t listen to you.
Because what I see in everything else you do instead is your tolerance for the outrages. Discomfort, perhaps, even panic, but tolerance. Also, I see the powerful men who are driving this political process, counting on you to stay home and bitch on Facebook. They’re not keeping the status quo, you yourself are keeping the status quo by allowing them their power.
You don’t have to be the heroic individual who risks everything for speaking truth to power. You just have to have a determined community.
The real heroes of protest movements are the regular families who go to the churches and keep their people together, the men and women who risk their lives and their sons’ and daughters’ lives and spend their best energies keeping things as normal as possible through the protests and arrests, the regular people who agree to the inconvenience of boycotts and give their money and time to the cause, and aren’t discouraged when the media and the government turn against them.
It takes a certain infrastructure to do this. It takes people who know each other well enough to risk their lives together, to die for each other, for the cause.
From colonists preparing for the Revolutionary War to lunch counter protesters in the ’60s, people have to share their visions so well that they can’t be turned against each other by provocateurs who’ll try to exploit their petty grievances and stir up paralyzing discord.
It takes people who know their way around each other’s kitchens and routines so well that they can swoop in and help when things get sideways, when protesters can’t come home from nonviolent protests, or when they come home wounded or even dead.
Marches are fun and galvanizing, but until people have skin in the game, until people are so tightly knit that they’ll suffer hardships together, marches are just dog walks, with chanting instead of dogs.
So before you complain about the state of things, ask yourself whether you’re knitting your people together. Do you know your way around your people’s kitchens? Do you automatically show up when your people need you? Or are you too busy with… what? What are you so busy with, that kids being killed is acceptable? Whatever you’re doing, it’s not enough, because it keeps happening.
Self-satisfied activities are not enough. If your protest activities are merely on the level of a hobby, or a social group you’re part of, it’s not enough. Your book groups, your postcard drives, they’re not enough.
What, are you part of a dancing society that also makes two-minute calls to Senators? Or are you dancing after long days of desperate activity, with people you know and love well, confident that your art, your music, your poetry are each an expression of your deep, common commitment to your ideals and to each other? Are you earning your pleasures by bending the arc of things so more people get to share them?
We know how social change happens. People start to shut down the business as usual that’s been tormenting them. That alone takes enormous planning, discipline, restraint, strategy, agreement, teamwork. It takes communities. Not just email lists, but hours of time together.
At some point, it will probably involve police dogs and counter-insurgency tactics and blood in the streets, and if you’re not preparing for that, what are you doing?
If you’re not galvanizing your community, bringing that urgency, laying plans to withstand the shock tactics of organized repression, if you’re spending your evenings at the movies, or going for hikes, or poetry readings, or planning your next vacation, well, your dismay about the school shootings is just so much dust in the wind, and the men in their boardrooms are laughing and smiling at each other and patting each other on the back and assuring each other that they’re fine, that nothing will change.
Dr. Daniel Bullen is the author of two books: The Love Lives of the Artists: Five Stories of Creative Intimacy (Counterpoint, 2011) and The Dangers of Passion: The Transcendental Friendship of Ralph Waldo Emerson & Margaret Fuller (Levellers, 2012). His history of the nonviolent protests known as Shays’ Rebellion will be published this fall. He holds a Ph.D. in American literature, and lives in western Massachusetts.