Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Courage

My idea for this morning was to talk about courage. When I used to write Classics Corner for Real Change, before the twins were born, I came to think of each 600 word column as a sort of a mini-sermon, but funny, and with classical references. And a lot of ambivalence about God.

It’s been more than three years since I wrote that column, but I never really got out of the habit.

So I’ll tell you something about myself.

When I need to rise to the occasion for something, whether it’s picking up the phone to call a donor or testifying at a hearing or telling someone what I really think, I think of Macbeth.

I love the Orson Welles movie. You probably know the scene. Macbeth needs to go up and kill King Duncan in his sleep, so he can become the Thane of Cordor, and he’s sort of dithering around, and Lady Macbeth sets him straight by saying, “Screw your courage to the wall. Then you’ll not fail.”

I always hear it in my head with this Scottish brogue thing.

And I visualize Jeanette Nolan.

And that kind of does it for me. But there’s this sort of secondary process.

First I ask myself, “Is what I’m about to do more noble than ascending the throne by means of assassination.”

And the answer to that generally being yes, I ask myself the next question.

“Is what I need to do easier than plunging a knife into the heart of a sleeping monarch?”

And I find the answer is always yes there as well.

So, that’s what works for me, but the point is, we live in very trying times, and it seems sometimes that the hardest thing for us to do is to grasp the reality of the situation we’re in without looking away.

And to not be overwhelmed by the horror.

And to do what we need to do, even when it’s not comfortable. Even when there is risk involved. Even when we’re not sure of the right way forward.

When we become activists for a different kind of world, no one hands us a road map that says turn left at the democratic party and keep going up hill until you see the brick wall, and then, transcend.

It sounds trite to say, but phrases that become worn with use often get that way because they’re just right.

We make our road by walking. And it always begins with a first step.

For the last year, we at Real Change have been deepening our understanding of our unique position in the community. We have allies. We bridge issues. We have more freedom than most — thanks to our large community of grassroots supporters and our earned income through circulation and advertising — to say what we mean and mean what we say.

And, we have 270 vendors each month selling the paper, reaching more than 12,000 readers each week. And there is a bond there. And that’s where our power lies.

So this year, we’re kicking off what will be a great experiment in cross-class organizing. We know that poor and homeless people need to have a stronger voice, but we can’t do it on our own. We know that our readers and other allies have political clout, and that their interests, and the interests of poor people, are linked.

We’re not really exactly sure where we’re going, but we’re taking the first steps toward building a space where people can come together and find their fire.

Real Change isn’t just a community. Real Change is many communities. Our work, we think is to increase the size of those spaces where these communities come together.

Text of speech for Real Change 13th Anniversary Breakfast, 10.24.2007

7 comments:

Sally Kinney said...

OK, I'm gonna make yet another a "class" comment because I think we're dangerously limiting our cause with our terminology. I don't expect agreement from anyone but I'll keep trying.

Tim says, "So this year, we’re kicking off what will be a great experiment in cross-class organizing. We know that poor and homeless people need to have a stronger voice, but we can’t do it on our own. We know that our readers and other allies have political clout, and that their interests, and the interests of poor people, are linked."

I would guess that poor people, at least occasionally, read Real Change, and if/when they do, they're "readers". I'm a reader, not technically a poor person, but even so, as an individual, I don't--and shouldn't--have any more political clout than any other person, poor or not, who's registered to vote -- or even not registered to vote. Certainly, reading Real Change doesn't give me clout. I wish it did, since I DO read Real Change and that would be a pretty easy way to get clout.

This is not (to me) just mere pilpul. We're building in class divisions before we even start to do this organizing and that isn't conducive to what we need to do. Can't we not make those assumptions going in so people can just join without having to figure out where they belong in the class system? Which isn't static anyway, of course; tomorrow, any number of us could switch from being housed readers to homeless readers. Or--less likely--the reverse.

And I'll sign my name to honor the general dislike of anonymous comments.

exasperated said...

Without the use of generalization, discussion becomes rather difficult. You can download our reader demographics at the website. They tend strongly toward educated professionals. This isn't to say these are the only people who read Real Change, nor that poor and homeless people without them are voiceless, but that if these loose groupings come together, there is something more powerful to be gained.

Also exasperated said...

Dear Exasperated: So, does the new organizing effort only include Real Change's demographics (educated professionals) and the poor and homeless? What I am trying to say (and maybe I'll give up because I'm not getting through) is that those two categories leave a LOT of people out. From Tim's speech this morning: "Real Change isn’t just a community. Real Change is many communities."
Many to me is more than two. Could even include just about anybody who can speak, think, work with others, and care about this issue. Can we afford to leave them out? If so, I guess things aren't as bad as they look.

A Concerned Friend said...

"We know that poor and homeless people need to have a stronger voice, but we can’t do it on our own. We know that our readers and other allies have political clout, and that their interests, and the interests of poor people, are linked."

Why are we picking fights that don't exist by nit-picking language like Bill Clinton trying to discern the meaning of "the." It doesn't seem to me that the above universe of categories leaves much of anyone out.

Maybe you can make yourself more clear by saying how you might have expressed the idea?

to concerned friend said...

OK, here's a try at more inclusive language. (And this is no Clintonesque quibbling; if you don't think terminology is important, look at what the Repubs have achieved in their messaging, i.e. "family values", etc.)

"We know that poor and homeless people need to have a stronger voice, but they can't do it on their own. That voice should include ALL of us, because many voices mean political clout. We need that political clout to work for justice, for poor people and for everyone."

Not elegant, but it doesn't exclude anyone -- including people who might not ordinarily think of themselves as "allies". If we don't try to invite them in, we'll lose.

Revel said...

Lakoffian framing aside, the speech was directed at a live audience consisting of readers and allies with political clout. Appropriately inclusive, in my humble opinion.

Laura said...

I'm offended that you would categorize me as Poor! Why not say, well, "Financially Challenged?" That should include, well, everyone according to their own terms and no organizing or generalization would occur, and no clarification would then be necessary! Ha ha :P

PS going in a different direction: in all honesty, we all know that class divisions occur to levels of education and ambition. No one can make you be poor, and no one can make you be rich. Even if you never had the chance to go to high school, you have the opportunity to earn a GED. If you need to earn money for college, as long as you can learn you can work. No one puts you out of opportunity except yourself.