A couple of questions posed to me at a recent social gathering got me thinking. The questions were, Why are you an activist? and then, Dont you get discouraged?. The second question was easy: yes, at times I do. But the first, put forth with an undercurrent attitude of futility and hopelessness, caused me to reflect on the question and also to pose it to several other activist friends.
For me, its a deep-seated desire for fairness and justice, probably stemming from my parents, who took me to hear Martin Luther King speak and worked for a fair housing code in our all white suburb of Chicago. This awareness led me to become an inner city teacher and when I moved North the switch to speaking up for environmental protection was a natural. Of course, being a teenager in the 60s and opposing the Vietnam War also contributed to my choosing an activist path. But why do I continue, especially when the issues have become so complex? Now, I feel an urgency that wasnt there in my early days of activism. Now, the question really is a matter of life and death for all of us. The stakes are higher, were closer to the brink of many systems collapsing.
Fortunately, at my age, Ive come to realize that I dont have to do it all. There are millions of people working for peace, justice and environmental balance. I just need to do my part.
The activist friends who I talked to gave various answers as to why they chose an activist path and also what sustains them and keeps them going. All of them mentioned a strong sense of justice, a feeling of fairness and whats right, that was instilled in them during childhood. One said, Nothing I did felt right, until I became an activist. Most talked about feeling good about speaking up and doing something for the good of all. Another person said it was just too painful to watch all that is going on and not do something to help. Similarly, the burden of knowing was mentioned; that once she knew of the injustices she could no longer ignore the suffering in the world without acting.
Most talked of the strong support gained from being part of the larger community of activists--all people who are trying to make a difference. And, one friend spoke of Johanna Macy, Buddhist activist, who advised, If you cant make world hunger go away, help to feed someone in your community. My friend responded by opening a soup kitchen.
Theres another, deeper reason that Ive become aware of. It is the realization that we are all connected--all living beings linked together by an invisible thread of Divine energy. This concept is common to many spiritual traditions; its roots lie in the ancient Vedic texts, some of the oldest recorded spiritual teachings. If were all connected, we share in the pain of our brothers and sisters around the world. The only way I can deal with this awareness is by doing my part to create a world where there is less suffering.
December 30, 1944
October 5, 2003
The peace community joins Art's family in honoring and remembering Art as a creative, intelligent member of our
community. He will be missed.