November 5th, 2008

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I Know I Shouldn't In Our Time of National Healing, But . . . .

Top things to say to irritate those who were insufferble after 2004.

5. Your new name will be "Shaquillah"

4. I told you voter fraud works better than voter surpression. You owe me a $1.

3. What, all the 'real' Americans forgot to vote?

2. You're still here? I thought you'd be out mobilizing with your militia already.

And the #1 thing to say to those who were insufferable after the 2004 election is:

1. Three words: Permanent . . . Democratic . . . . Majority . . . .
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Random Reflections Still Shooting Through My Mind

First reflection

For my great grandmother Bernstein, who marched with the suffragettes and was arrested for chaining herself to the gate of Gracie Mansion. My grandmother Marker, who was the first woman licensed as an insurance broker in Brooklyn. Both of whom resigned from DAR when it refused to rent Constitution Hall to Marion Anderson.

For my grandfather Feld, who was a union organizer.

For my Mother, who got run out on a rail from Yonkers for pushing integration, worked on school desegregation in Boston in the 1970s, and worked on drop out prevention in Providence.

For my Father, who instilled in my the value of social justice.

"The stone that was rejected by the builder has become the cornerstone! It is from the Lord, and it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice in it!"

Second reflection

Back when I was in law school, I was arguing with someone about the best way to address problems of persistent poverty and racism. This fellow volunteered with Big Brother, worked in various community programs in minority neighborhoods, and utterly infuriated me with his cynical insistence that creating economic and social opportunities would have impact. When I argued that given a real opportunity -- in fact not merely in name -- to go to a school like Harvard and a drive to take part in society and make a real, lasting change, he snorted in that cyncial way that substitutes for wisdom and said: "Yeah, right! And anybody can be president! Because this America and the land of opportunity and anyone who works hard and applies himself can grow up to be president some day. Right." And for him, that was the killer argument.

Whose laughing now? "Cynicism is the most morally supine position in the universe. It's real comfortable, ya know. Because if nothing makes a difference, you can just lie there and not worry about how you're adding to the stink." -- Miles Vorkosigan.

Third reflection

Salty language on last.
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Permission to Feel Good.

I have noted the urge of very many people to emphasize how much there is still to do in the world on racism, gender discrimination, discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Allow me to offer a community organizer perspective.

I have found, in my many years of experience, that you really need to take some time to savor the wins without the incessant reminders of how far there is to go. That it is critical to the sustainability of social movements to allow a day or two of simple pleasure in accomplishment WITHOUT the perpetual little buzz kill of how much more their is to do or the struggles ahead. Because if you don't allow people those moments of actual joy and accomplishment, they burn out. Because what is the point when every single time you accomplish something someone is there to helpfully remind you how much more there is to do, so don't get too happy now or think you've accomplished too much.

And so those who would feel accomplishment and revel in their moment of triumph censor themselves. They become defensive. They seek to preempt. How many people included the phrase (or an equivalent) "I know how much more we have to do, but I'm so happy now!" As if rejoicing now is somehow inappropriate, that we must seek pardon and permission to celebrate any milestone. And it works. The joy is diminished. The reward less. The labor made greater. And, over time, we lose our capacity for joy and become worldly and cynical and join the chorus to silence those who can still dare to take undiluted and unmitigated pleasure in their achievements.

"The labor is not for us to complete, but we are not free to turn aside" is cliche because it is true. It is also my experience that everyone involved knows that problems are not magically solved. But the human spirit needs wins, and the opportunity to savor them WITHOUT a reminder of how much longer this is to go.

Give permission to people to rejoice. For one day, do NOT remind everyone how much longer and farther and never ending the labor is. Who knows, perhaps you yourself may discover that, while the labor is not for us to complete, it is the gift of God to rejoice in our labors and see them prosper. For one who labors and takes no joy in it, says the Preacher, it is better had he never been born.