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.