Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pick your fights…pick the ones you can win.

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch is going to take Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. There is nothing you can do about it, so you might as well get use to the idea and just pray that the Notorious R.G.B. can hold out for four more years.

And we have nobody to blame but ourselves. My reaction when Merrick Garland was nominated and the Republicans blocked the vote was no way Trump is going to win so Hillary can pick her first nominee. I wonder now what would have happened if we had not done the political math. If progressives had poured out into the streets last summer rather than the day after Trump took office. I think we would be living in a far different world today.

As we choose to move forward in this struggle, we have to come to grips with the fact that if we do not make an all-out effort to change the direction of this country, our idea of what is America may be forever lost. Writing checks doesn’t cut it anymore. As a matter of fact, the last few elections have proven that money doesn’t matter in the actual fight for power – it’s getting people engaged that wins! Donald Trump won this election and spent 100 million dollars less than his opponent. So what do we have to do? We need to be engaged. Engaged with our elected representatives (write letters – call). Engaged in our local elections as well as the big election every four years. And we have to be engaged with the people who don’t agree with us. Yes, that one is going to be really tough, but it has to be done.   

Which brings me to the point of today’s epistle – picking our fights. Be effective – avoid looking like petty partisans – and making real achievements toward our goals. Our tool is powerful, but our resolve must be firm. I’m talking about Non-Violent Direct Action – known by the Gandhian term Satyagraha.

Mahatma Gandhi, the great practitioner of nonviolence, created the word Satyagraha to fill the void in all languages for a positive idea for nonviolent direct action. Satyagraha is a composition of two Sanskrit words: Saty - meaning the truth or how something should be, something that is really original or authentic and – Graha - meaning strong hold of something, insistence on something, perseverance, enthusiasm. Satyagraha literally means down to the truth and in a figurative sense, the power of the truth or truth force.

Another aspect of Satyagraha is that it implies openness, honesty, and fairness. Each person's opinions and beliefs represent part of the truth. So, in order to see more of the truth, we must share our truths cooperatively. Here is where those we disagree with come in. It is arrogant to assume that we KNOW what needs to be done – we don’t. And the ONLY place we are going to grab that piece of the truth that is eluding us is by engaging with those we disagree with. They have that piece and only through compassionate and sincere dialog will that truth come to us.

Finally, satyagraha means a willingness for self-sacrifice. A satyagrahi (one who practices Satyagraha) must be willing to shoulder any sacrifice which is occasioned by the struggle which they have initiated, rather than pushing such sacrifice or suffering onto their opponent, lest the opponent become alienated and access to their portion of the truth become lost. The satyagrahi must always provide a face-saving "way out" for the opponents. The goal is to discover a wider vista of truth and justice, not to achieve victory over the opponent. 

Ok – so I suspect that many of my friends are saying WHAT?! Look, I have been working on this for years and it’s true. Sincere dialog will allow you to understand and grab hold of what is needed to get past this awful divisive time we live in. It’s what freed India. It’s what changed how African-Americans are treated in this country. It can change the world.

Is it hard? Damn right it is! On a good day I am barely competent and on my bad days I do more damage that good when I engage with my friends and others I disagree with.

Dr. King spoke about awakening direct action in all of us in 1959 when he said

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action".

Satyagraha is not a way for one group to seize what it wants from another. It is not a weapon of class struggle, or of any other kind of division. Satyagraha is instead an instrument of unity. It is a way to remove injustice and restore social harmony, to the benefit of both sides.

Satyagraha, strange as it seems, is for the opponent's sake as well. When Satyagraha works, both sides win.

So, stay in the streets, but choose your fights wisely. Look for maximum impact. Find actions that make a real difference. And engage with your opponent – with compassion. It could save America.

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