For much of my adult life, I have been “a political activist.” This activism took many forms, some having to do with electoral politics, some having to do with community organizing and advocating. All of these activities were conducted with the best of intentions, and with the goal of “making the world a better place.” My attention was ever focused on injustices, and problems, and the people who were responsible for causing them.
On April 28th of this year, I attended a Zoom call for a socialist reading group that I had first organized years ago, and found myself feeling tense and frustrated almost beyond description throughout the entire call. It felt like a recurring, tedious nightmare. Afterwards I took a breath and realized that this chapter of my life had come to an end.
I had begun what might best be described as “a turn inward” a year or so earlier. The more I delved into the stillness, the less attraction the huge contentious ball of negativity held for me. Increasingly, as time passed, I saw political organizing and activism as massive wastes of energy. Still, I was hesitant to entirely turn my back on activities which had been at the center of my life (I would even say had largely defined my life) for such a long time.
Finally, though, engaging in struggle as a way to effect change got to be incompatible with what I was coming to believe about the fundamental nature of our world. This was a hard realization for someone who considered himself a Marxist, but ultimately it was too compelling.
So I just stopped.
I stopped attending meetings and calls. I removed myself from various groups on social media. I handed off projects and websites to others, or let them die. I stayed away from political discussions. I quit attending and promoting community actions of a political nature. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, I was, for the most part, mute.
For some of my erstwhile comrades, my friends, and even some of my immediate family, this change in my thinking and activities seems to have come as an unpleasant shock. The need for change has, perhaps, never been greater. The Trump years brought one catastrophe after another for working people, and particularly for the most oppressed among us. To turn one’s back on struggle, to forswear outrage, to be one less pair of boots on the march, one less voice raised in resistance, one less caller getting out the vote, one less hand being lent to the organizing efforts – I suppose it appeared to be something akin to betrayal.
For me, at last, it comes down to this. If people are hungry, I should feed them. It is as direct and simple as that. The moments that I spend and the material contributions that I offer to immediately relieve suffering or need are worthwhile, and are enough. This sort of effort does not require that I propagandize, or argue, or cajole, or sit in judgment of others. It does not require that I join a mutual aid group on Facebook. It does not require a stirring up of any emotion other than compassion. It does not require shouting, or the clenching of fists, or the carrying of signs or the drawing of lines in the sand.
I won’t go so far at this point as to say that the clenching and the shouting and the marching is a waste of everyone else’s time, but there is no question that it would be a waste of mine. It brings out the worst of my judgmental, impatient, unpleasant tendencies, and if “the good fight” cannot be conducted with a smile on one’s face and with love in one’s heart, then it ceases to be good, and becomes just a fight.
Energy goes where attention is placed. If attention is placed on nastiness, negative people, and negative states of mind, then all of the energy goes into an endless, recursive tsunami of negativity. This is the current state of politics in America, and I refuse to contribute any further to it.
Perhaps it is naïve to place one’s hope in the spirit of love. Or perhaps one day that spirit will give rise to a mass movement toward peace and justice and light and life and redemption. I do not know. But I do know that I am contented, despite all of the madness swirling around us, for the first time in a very long time.
I have been accused, very directly and pointedly, of exercising privilege as a grey headed white straight cis male in my refusal to opt out of that contentment. If it is necessary to be angry and outraged and addicted to one’s own stress hormones in order to demonstrate concern and compassion and solidarity, then I will plead guilty as charged. But I suspect that all that is truly necessary is the spirit of love, and the works which are attendant to it.
So I will continue to give my attention to feeding people and to nurturing that spirit of love.
And that will have to be enough.