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Uncomfortable Essay #10: Life

Looking back, I can trace the genesis of these Uncomfortable Essays to early 2007.

I decided to call these “Uncomfortable Essays” because they were (and are) uncomfortable for me to write. I am reporting on observations I have made which can easily be construed to be critical of the very movement of which I am an active part. Publishing thoughts like these carries at least a small risk. One doesn’t know how they will be received. They might, after all, be considered to be wrong! In fact, they may well be wrong; they are simply my impressions.

I am relatively new to the peace and justice movement – becoming part of it after the bombing of Afghanistan began in October, 2001. I could see no good coming out of that warfare, which was supported by 94% of Americans at the time. It was a very lonely time. Only one of twenty of my fellow citizens agreed with me.

Since 2001 I have tried to participate in many of the significant events, met a lot of the leaders, did a little leading myself, and learned a great deal, including about the movement itself and the people active in it.

Even before 2007 I was noticing that the assorted protests and actions and even talks were drawing fewer people, even though public disapproval of the wars was increasing. In short, there seemed a paradoxical shift: rather than a positive correlation between public attitude and response in support of public actions, the correlation seemed more negative. People were tired of the war, but were less actively engaged – or so it seemed – in the traditional modes of protest and action. More people seemed to become “passive-ists” when more activists were needed.

But we seemed to keep doing the same things in the same ways, including simply re-doing what used to work. Succinctly, the first decade of the 21st century was not like the 1960s.
There are likely dissenting views about the current health of advocacy for peace, justice, the environment and global cooperation. For instance, earlier this year Frida Berrigan published a piece in Common Dreams entitled “Dismantling Peace Movement Myths” http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/07/8793. (Her “Four Myths” did not enter into my own writing, but are relevant as yet another reference for discussion.)

The purpose of these pieces is to encourage discussion and change.

As I began the process of these essays, I came to a conclusion that however many topics I might wish to write about, I would conclude the series at ten. I know there are more topics to address.

When I reached the time where I was thinking about this final offering, I decided to make it a summary document from which I would share some recommendations for hoped-for ‘solutions driven’ conversations.

I also decided to open this column to signed commentaries from readers reflecting on, or agreeing or disagreeing with, the substance of these essays, or offering thoughts on new topics. In other words, this space is now open to you. Make submissions to dick_bernard at MSN.com.

As to recommendations, I am simply going to leave it at this: the subject headings for the 10 brief essays are the summary of the commentaries. I would hope that these few pages will inspire dialogue, perhaps some change, and great future success in sundry ways.

We have to look seriously at the dilemma of organizing, generally. There are tens of thousands, probably millions, of “right” ways to advocate for anything. But we live in a time where people are reluctant to become parts of groups, even those whose philosophy they agree with. Perhaps this will change in harsher times, but not yet.

The dilemma is getting organized such that those millions of ideas, and those individuals who are “Armies of One”, can actually accomplish something together. This is not easy, particularly in this time in history when individualism trumps being part of a group. When even the U.S. Army, no model of individualism, adopts as its recruiting theme “An Army of One” to attract recruits, as it did from 2001-2006, you know you have an organizing problem.

Absolutely essential, in my opinion, is discussion of bridging the gap between elder and youth. Another essential, it seems to me, is the matter of general attitude. There often seems an aura of hopelessness in our conversations, even in this time where hope should be at least a possibility.

At this point in history, we have plenty of knowledge of the problems; it is of limited value to continue to complain about what is wrong; we need to be about advocating for what has to be in the many ways that are available to us. We need to work outside of our comfortable cohort, both inside and particularly outside the movement of which we are a part. We need to attempt to find common ground including with those for whom there seems no possible common ground.
We need to work very, very hard at the business of inclusion, collaboration, communication and relationships. All of these are essential, especially within our own circles.

We need to experiment with new approaches.

I deeply appreciate your taking the time to read these imperfect thoughts. I hope they generate a spark or two in the coming months.

Have a happy and productive New Year in 2009.

I leave the last word to counselor Earnie Larson, who left me and others in a 1982 seminar with a powerful thought about change. “Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes”, he said.

Dick Bernard
Woodbury MN
December 31, 2008

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