In a notebook of ideas that stays open on my desk, I wrote sometime in the last few weeks, “What if the movement changed its language from “resistance” to “expansiveness” or “embracing?”
Who knows what I was thinking when I wrote it down but I spend a good bit of time every week coaching people around resistance, that part of us that compounds discomfort by wishing that what is was otherwise or tries to control the uncontrollable.
So there’s that part, but there’s also that there has long been a meaningful part of The Resistance that behaves as The Embracing.
Alice Walker, longtime skin-in-the-game activist (best known as the author of The Color Purple), spoke about envisioning the politicians she opposed as the babies they once were in order to keep her heart open.
In a beautiful On Being interview, Ruby Sales quoted a Black spiritual that “contested the notion of the omnipotent power of the white enslaver” with the lyrics, “’I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart, and you can’t make me hate you, and you can’t make me hate you in my heart.’”
And, a recent event that’s been filling my heart and blowing my mind since I first read about it:
Just down the road from us, in a wee town called Marion, two Black Lives Matters demonstrations have taken place in the last month. In the Roanoke Times article published the day after the first demonstration, the town’s police chief was making a plea for non-violence, not in the wake of the demonstration, but in the wake of an angry white local responding to that demonstration by burning a cross in front of the home of Travon Brown, one of the organizers.
Travon Brown is a 17-year-old organizer in a group called the New Panthers, named in homage to the Black Power group that, while typically vilified by media, politicians, and most historians, was often women-run and focused on things like food programs that fed kids in collaboration with local (and almost always white-owned) businesses.
When I read about the cross burned in his yard, I was cussing.
And then I read Travon’s response. He was quoted in the paper as saying, “You can always just talk to me. You can always just ask me what is this movement about. You don’t have to burn a cross in my yard.”
Fellow organizer David Sparks was quoted as saying, “It’s up to us to come together and make that change and whoever disagrees, I would encourage them to try to come and have that conversation, just a peaceful conversation, so we can all be on the same page and adapt to that change.”
And Marion Police Chief John Clair? He said, “The way forward is rooted in love.”
Two weeks later, the group held another demonstration. Armed counterprotesters, some carrying or wearing Confederate flags, became increasingly vitriolic and aggressive, also according to the Roanoke Times.
The New Panthers? They began yelling back, “We love you!”
It would be a mistake to equate a commitment to love and peace as passivity. The A&T Four were not being passive when they sat peacefully at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. They were being nonviolent world changers working from their highest ethical ground and greatest power.
As was Rosa Parks when she remained in her seat in 1955.
As were the marchers beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.
When we are hijacked by our own reactivity, we are disconnected from our own moral standards, the core of our personal power, our ability to live into the world in a way that creates the world we want to see.
That’s true whether the circumstances are big social action or a drive in heavy traffic.
Decide now – decide daily – who you want to be in this world and endeavor to let nothing get in the way of embodying that person.