I have a hard time just doing what I can. These days (ugh) in particular. There is the desire to shame myself for not doing more. You know the quote?
Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
The provenance is in question, but it was probably some religious leader. I should know better than to take advice from relgious leaders. But I’ll cheerfully latch on to any opportunity to criticize myself. Wheeee!
So I can read about Climate Change and create bite size chunks of facts for Minnesotans to absorb at the State Fair and write blog posts read by ones of peoples and bike to work and not have kids and skip that flight back to LA to see an old college friend. But I still felt obliged to attend the Day of Action for the Amazon (or whatever it was called) in the Cargill section of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Do all that you can.
Sooo not in my wheelhouse.
So not in my wheelhouse, in fact, that once I surmised the size (small) of the protest group, I decided to give myself a night at the museum instead. I don’t go to museums nearly enough! Being present with art is probably of equivalent spiritual value to the protest’s social value! Maybe I can weight them equally? Did I perhaps research whether the museum was open late that night before committing to the action? Was I looking for a smooth way out of the lack of fray, if the situation was fray-less? I’ve said too much already.
I have no problem being a number in a protest – one of thousands or even hundreds. I know that numbers are important and I’m happy to add to them. But to take public, political action in a small group requires certain qualities that I just don’t do well.
- Keep it simple, stupid
I hated this when I had to do it in door-to-door canvassing, while completely understanding the need for it. To me, nothing is simple. Everything has nuances and unknowns and alternate theories and history and gray characters. But those subleties don’t get donations and they don’t get media attention and they don’t get supporters pumped up. Catch phrases do. Rhymes do.
- Coordinated speech and action
Or what I like to disparagingly call Groupthink. Part of the problem is you need to be part of the group to be part of the think, and I tend to show up to protests alone and haven’t joined an activist group in a long time. (Ever?) Of course coordinated action can be visually arresting and effective when it’s a mass demonstration (take the prescriptions that rained down in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Sackler wing) and chants and songs can show energy and purpose, and rouse spirits and draw attention. But coordinated action doesn’t seem coordinated unless it’s en masse, and I can rarely listen to a chant without judgment. I cherry pick my chants, and that’s not what organizers are looking for. Here’s what I hear from the maybe 30 or so people gathered outside the museum after their action.
“Did you hear? That museum guy said ‘a museum is no place for social activism!'”
“What? Hahaha! That’s ridiculous! Booooo MIA!”
So, was this guy a museum representative? A guard? I’m mostly seeing guards. I mean, was he speaking for the museum?
“Art is social activism!” All: “Art is social activism!!! Art is social activism!!!”
“Social activism is Art!” All: “Social Activism is Art!!!”
Hm. Much less so.
So I walked away, and they all chanted a little longer and took lots of pictures and seemed very pleased with themselves. And that is great. I am not being facetious. Those people have to exist – people with strong beliefs who are unashamed to be one of a few mounting a protest that will get no press and disrupt almost nothing. Because that is where things start. But I am not one of those people. It hurts my soul to pretend things are simple, because my soul is a place of complexity and confusion and contradiction. How do I Do All I Can if I don’t do this? Is this something I can’t do? How is that defined? What does the word “can” mean? Does doing all you can mean giving up everything in your life that isn’t benefitting someone else? If that keeps you from sustaining yourself as a human, isn’t that detrimental to the cause? If I gave up my job, my possessions, my time, my beliefs, would that be enough? Would anything ever be enough?
Of course not. And I do accept that I am not going to completely dedicate myself to the world outside myself. But I also know that what I do is not enough, and what I’m good at doing doesn’t do enough. So I’m going to the Climate Strike on Friday.
Maybe there will be lots of people there and I can fulfill my role as a body without angst before biking home, reading something important, and watching BoJack Horseman. Cross your fingers for me.
2 thoughts on “Do All That You Can”
We are so different. 🙂 I like simple so much that I have the word displayed in a few places in my apartment. That doesn’t mean I don’t see or value complexity or that I can’t explore the complexity of things (I do very much hate when people say X is why Y happens when they have almost zero context). I’m just more comfortable with simple, and I *am* simple. Complexity tends to make me anxious (I also break things down to simple parts or else I won’t get them done), and if I have a lot of things to do I also have a lot of anxiety (I’m nearing the point where I can do more in terms of deciding what to do rather just doing what has to be done to get to Point B). I’m also very different from Jean-Luc, who may or may not be more complicated than you. All that said, you do more than most people I know. I’m always impressed by the things you do and by your passions and desires. I hope you give yourself time to enjoy those good things you do. ❤
Finally getting around to responding. Yeah, it sounds like the group doing the Cargill protest were maybe overly proud of themselves, and in their zeal they maybe made a few comments that didn’t fully pass muster. I hope they took all those pictures to try and get some attention on social media because it sounds like they didn’t get actual media. And I know you are not so much criticizing them as saying that you don’t have the personality to be part of that sort of group. I get that! But the truth is you are pretty harsh on them! I’d urge you to re-think the power (and the potential joy) of a small group. You don’t have to only participate in protests where you are one body among hundreds or thousands. Those are my least favorite demonstrations to be part of, and feel least useful. A sit-in at a lunch counter didn’t require hundreds or thousands. Last year, a lone friend of mine bird-dogged Howard Schultz at a book signing event at Barnes and Noble and basically single-handedly ended his presidential campaign before it could start. Sometimes a small group doing an excellent action can make a huge difference, especially if they get good press coverage. Even the Sackler protest at the Guggenheim that you mention was carried out by a very small group of people. I know them. The action was kept close to the vest until the last minute. They didn’t need or want many people to rain down prescriptions from the balconies. The trick is to align yourself with a group that is creative, smart, and capable of critical thinking. Such groups exist! Not all groupthink is bad. Some groups are able to embrace complexity and contradiction. I’m speaking as an introvert who was never inclined to join a group in my life, until a few years ago. It’s not always easy. Some people get on my nerves. Sometimes actions don’t have the impact we envision. But for me, doing all that I can is definitely easier with the company and with the creative and critical thinking of our group.