Sunday, August 19, 2007

In the Presence of Giants

Yesterday morning, after a bleary-eyed drive up to the City of Berkeley, CA following a night with Lewis Black at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall (in which he advocated for the election of Santa Claus rather than yet another same-old same-old politician labeled Democrat or Republican, or, at a minimum, forcing whoever won to wear the red suit as a unifying force for the country) I began my work day to the sounds of the drums first approaching, and ultimately being played to the heavens by the Youth as they danced into Zellerbach Hall.  The conga, the snare, the timbale, of varying rhythm melody yet all nonetheless in harmony with the same, insistent calls.  (Polyrhythmic music, as they some it in today's newfangled music labeling language.  We used to say "The Drums", knowing exactly what that meant.)

The Drums, as a Call to Action.

And as my body responded -- couldn't help but respond, though Lord Knows that part of me that is bougie TRIED to stay in her auditorium seat along with most of the other "professionals"! -- for 20 minutes of that musical Call to Action, as the bodies of virtually every Black person in the room (and a few whites as well) responded because it is impossible not to respond if you HEAR the drums, I knew I was going to spend the day in the presence of giants.

When was the last time you were at a professional conference that started that way?

Yesterday I was fortunate to attend the 4th Annual CraigsList Boot Camp here at Berkeley. The Boot Camp is a one-day training and networking event for non-profit volunteers, employees, and leadership.  Having been done in the Bay Area for the past four years, the Boot Camp is now expanding, traveling to other cities, to replicate the synergy that happens when you take thousands of people all separately dedicated to Doing Good in the World and put them all together.

But, as someone said yesterday, the Bay Area is the incubator.  The proving ground, for political Calls to Action.

A Call to Action that need not -- should not -- be limited to the non-profit world.

I could write about all the inspiration and practical wisdom I absorbed (and shared in my totally limited way) about Doing Good in the World through non-profit action, including the wry wisdom shared by Ami Dar, founder of, the central web portal for volunteerism and non-profit community action these days.  But as will become clear below, I'm not going to do that.

I can't ignore, however, the fierce luncheon keynote by sister Aimee Allison.  It was not just inspiring to those committed to non-profits and the work they do, on the ground in the grassroots (even ringers like me who work for the Man while redistributing as many of his assets as I can through pro bono).  Her call to action was *revolutionary*.  She pretty much indeed called for revolution even as she did not literally say "revolt!".  Revolution against the system, revolution against the boundaries that cause non-profit leaders and organizations to feel they have to "play the game" confusing many of the folks in the audience with her bluntness, revolution against the mindset that one has to sell out one's values and beliefs just to chase the Man's money.  Revolution against the war and what it is doing to the youth in Iraq and here at home.  Revolution against failure, in light of what is happening to our country in the era of Emperor George W. Bush and the coming descent into economic, if not actual, madness of our country.

And, yes revolution against the mindset that real, political, revolution requires activists to put their energies always towards being "in politics" instead of making the equally activist choice to spend energy and commitment and time locally, doing small good works to create the change we wish to see.  Each one, reach one.

(Not bad from a woman who ran for office in Oakland on the Green Party ticket, the Democratic Party choosing to go with the same old, same old broken promises Democratic incumbent, knowing that it would change absolutely nothing for the poor in Oakland and not caring -- because that's how party politics is played.)

Normally I'm sluggish at professional conferences after lunch.  Not yesterday. 

My only disappointment from the experience is that there were only 50 or 60 or so brothers and sisters to hear Ms. Allison -- or the Drums -- out of an audience of nearly 2,000 in Zellerbach Auditorium yesterday to hear her.

I returned home with a wallet stuffed to the gills with business cards from activists in the non-profit world, because I made a point of meeting as many brothers and sisters going Good Works as I could (as well as dozens of others) .  Networking, they call it in the professional world.  To be inspired, to offer my firm's legal help to their organizations to those who expressed a need, to simply feel renewed in their presence.  And I was renewed.  I met brothers who are helping those who have paid their debt to society get reconnected when they are out, leveraging foundation resources to help folks pay their restitution and get jobs and reconnect with the positive aspects of their children and families.  I met sisters who were working to try and unite gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and heterosexual brothers and sisters in the common struggle to attack HIV/AIDS in our youth. I met both brothers and sisters whose sole non-profit mission is to inspire youth teaching *them* how to be activists in the grassroots; training them and teaching them to pick up the torch and raise it high.

At the end, I walked out with three energizing principles of non-profit activism laid down at the beginning of the day by the Executive Director of CraigsList Foundation, Darian Rodriguez-Heyman, still playing in my head, along with the drums that never stopped punctuating them all day long:

Pick Big Problems to Bring Into Your Life

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Less is More

I could spend hours writing about how each of these mental slogans resonated with me personally.  But that is not necessary - because the important thing is that these simple prescriptions are apt for activism, period, not just in the non-profit world.  They are just valid for those of us who blog politically, as they are for those who are in the grassroots.

Perhaps they are even more necessary for Leftist activism than even in the non-profit world, given how much drama, infighting and ego politics plague too many blogs on the Left, these days, lessening the effectiveness of them all and almost destroying some of them.  Politics and political blogging is plagued, just as much of the non-profit sector on the Left is, with Drama (with a capital "D"), infighting and ego politics.  Things that, no matter how Evil we call our right wing opponents, are far less distracting to them in terms of actualizing their goals than they are to us who are on The Left.

I could write lots more but I am trying to start actually applying wisdom so I am going to try really hard to apply the "less is more" prescription to my blogging.  Since lots of folks say that my diaries are Too Long (and thus, as a DailyKOS commenter once said to me having not actually read the diary he was commenting about without actually reading the diary at issue, "nobody is going to read this.")That outcome defeats the purpose of my writing, which is to communicate and inspire and reach out to others who are all fighting the same causes, even if in different ways or with a different emphasis.

So, instead of my usual wordy tactics, I'll just issue a simple call to action to bloggers:  get out into the grassroots.  Take your activism into our communities, not just to the self-selected Internet which has passion but lacks too often a sense of what it is like to work collaboratively with real people.  Quoting the most famous campaign of that infamous sweatshop-enabling athletic shoe company, Nike:

Just Do It.


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