It takes a high level of organized coordination to pull off mobilizations like we just saw in NYC for climate justice. It also takes training and movement building to achieve peace among 300,000 people in the streets. What I hope people realize is that the People’s Climate March and Occupy are all expressions of intentional movement building toward building strategic and collective people power that has been going on for 30+ years. We activists train our butts off.
Movements are not institutions so they don’t necessarily institute the gains of the movement unless we intentionally do so. Luckily there are people who are part of these movements are drawn to synthesizing the wins and the lessons, then sharing them among movements and with emerging generations of activists. Sometimes they write books but they are always teaching others. We are blessed the have them in our movements. We need to know our movement DNA.
But it’s hard for the outside world to see the DNA of a movement. Maybe this has been a strategic advantage in the past, but with the increasing transparency that we see emerging in the culture, movements need to work harder in articulating the ethos of the invitation they are presenting. If it takes everyone to change the trajectory of the planet, it’s important that the invitation to all humanity be pretty freaking awesome right?
All of this is to say to the church, please stop solely looking to the civil rights movement as your barometer for what social change looks like. Please look at the Catholic Worker movement. Please look to the anti-nuclear movement. Look at the period of time in the 70’s where epic acts of legislature were founded to protect the environment. Please look to the Zapatistas and the Global Justice movement, grassroots labor organizing and the movements to free political prisoners in this country like Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal. And please, please look at the immigration movement. These are the forces that are shaping the current upwelling of progressive (or insert your word for “people working for social transformation here”) collective action like we saw at the People’s Climate March.
I could write for days about the diversity of communities that bring the beauty of their demand for a better world. The DNA listed here is not exhaustive by any means. My point is that really amazing social change work is already going on in the world, we just need to join it. It’s that same missional church teaching about how God is already doing really good work in the world, and we need to look around and join in on it.
The siloed, individualistic ways church goes about “changing the world” only works within the bounds of that tradition. And God is bigger than that!!!
For instance!! We loved the interfaith rally at the People’s Climate March, but we actually had to leave it to go join the march and be there for the 2 minutes of silence commemorating those we’ve already lost to climate change. (If you ever been in silence with thousands of people at once, you will know why we needed to be there.) We didn’t get to march with our church peeps because we didn’t want to miss most of the march! This kind of separation probably was strategical logistically and perhaps provided the focus need to create a safe space for multi-faith worship, but it set the faith based rally apart from what God was doing with that march.
The good news is that we don’t have to re-invent the proverbial wheel of social transformation. We just need to look for it, be of service to it, build relationships between communities and journey along side of those people most affected by the active oppressions in our contexts. As a church we are invited into this work toward building the Kingdom, this partnership of Mitva with God, calling us into partnership to help restore her kingdom “on earth as in heaven.”
So let us embrace those among us who serve as spiritual activists. Across religions they journey in communities and movements for social transformation. They engage personal transformation practices alongside their work toward social change. The rally for love. These folks are our teachers. People like Joerg Rieger, Adam Bucko, Alexia Salvatierra, Rev William Barber, Lisa Sharon Harper, Phileena & Chris Huertez, Richard Rohr, all of the clergy serving the wounded community in Ferguson, MO and soooo many more – they are the activists and mobilizers of the church who journey with movements. We should listen to them and ask them who we need to become to be able to journey with what they see God already transforming in the world.
As a church we should resource and support our spiritual activists, pray for them, practice with them and journey with them. Amen.