A tease

Perched at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, there is a sense things might get better. At least that is the word on some streets. Changes in the White House, changes as vaccines roll out, lessons learned this year that perhaps we’ll carry forward. We listened to Greta Thunberg and Anthony Fauci. We saw footage that pierced our hearts. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. We watched protests that involved too many people getting hurt, too many journalists getting arrested, too many people killed. We looked around for individuals we could talk with about all that was going on, but often faced neighbors who told us the pandemic was a hoax, the protesters were asking for it, and the election had been stolen. And too often too many of us responded with silence.

We inch into 2021 hopeful enough people will get vaccines to put the skids on Covid-19. We want to believe change in the US administration will help this country come to grips with inequalities, climate change and an economic disaster too many American face daily. It just isn’t a new calendar but, we hope, a chance for us to do better. But that then becomes the question. Because there are certainly changes as the new year begins, but for those changes to work, to sink in roots, to grow, to put out leaves, produce fruit, we need to put in effort. We need to ask ourselves what we are individually capable of…and then try to go a step or two further. Yes, we can read inspirational books, follow Heather Cox Richardson and Andy Slavitt online, marvel at the determination and grit of Stacey Abrams and José Andrés. But we also need to make changes in our own lives, our actions, perhaps even our beliefs.

This doesn’t mean sunny resolutions on January 1 but efforts that become part of the fabric of daily life. Where in your community are you putting time? Can you do more? How are you spending money (if you have money to spend)? Can you find ways to shop local, order from independent stores rather than behemoths with awful labor practices? Speak up. Get on a local school board, planning council, health department board. Help at the food bank but also put effort into making food banks unnecessary. Write your representatives in Washington and in your state legislature. Write letters to the editor. Find ways to talk with people – even people who think/look/act differently then you do. Find ways to engage in civic discourse and not just scroll through Facebook/Parler/Twitter.

Today, tomorrow, this new year has such potential. We just need to find ways to help utilize it, to transform this potential into a reality. What are you going to do?

Civil disobedience

Earlier this week, the traveling bookstore set up at a farmers market. The market manager put out signs reminding people to wear masks and maintain social distances. Besides selling used books and postcards, the traveling bookstore gave away free face masks, masks made by women in the community who have been sewing mountains of them since March.

People stand and read books during silent protest in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

I really enjoy talking books with people. I appreciate hearing kids enthuse about what they want to read. I like seeing someone get excited when they find a book they are searching for on the shelves – or discover a gem they didn’t even know they wanted. The traveling bookstore is small but it does have a remarkable inventory. Ask the man who inquired about a book on horses and I tried not to look doubtful as I pulled out the only three I had, but one was EXACTLY what he wanted. Most of the time, setting up the traveling bookstore brings joy.

And then someone stopped by who wasn’t wearing a face mask. In my kindest I-care-about-you voice I said masks were required at the farmers market and I had a box full of free ones so he could take his pick. But no. He didn’t want a mask. He said, with a smile, he was practicing civil disobedience.

I don’t know about you, but hearing ‘civil disobedience’ got my mind spinning on Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr. I thought of Rosa Parks on the bus, the Stonewall uprising and the people in Tiananmen Square. I wanted to ask him what he meant. I wanted to say civil disobedience is an act to be honored, it isn’t a joke. I wanted to offer him a book, but he had already walked away.

And I was pissed trying to think how to react. It is a situation that plays out too frequently in my community these days. So it wasn’t anger at just this individual, but at the situation with the pandemic, with individuals and businesses who make choices that are potentially harmful to others, and at myself for feeling powerless.

But the incident got me thinking about civil disobedience and the remarkable occasions when people stood up to make the world better. Not only stood up but put their lives on the line. Gandhi’s Salt March, protests in Egypt, Ukraine, East Germany, and Selma. The list is long and if everyone who participated was counted, it would be millions. Millions! Millions of individuals who acted to make a difference, a positive difference. A difference that made the world a better place for themselves and their children and their neighbors. People were arrested and tear-gassed and blasted with fire hoses, and some were killed. Those who survived were willing to endure anything because they believed their endurance would change things for the better. And often it did.

I don’t know what vision the man held who refused to wear a mask at the farmers market. I hope he has a view larger than his own inconvenience on a summer’s afternoon. I am thankful my thoughts turned towards those who stood up for change, those who chose to walk towards something better, who kept true to their vision for days, months, even years. And this led me to consider when a choice to stand against power makes sense, and why in other instances it just seems wrong.

Some suggestions……

Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

John Holloway’s Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today

Dorothy Day’s Hold Nothing Back

Angela Y. Davis’s If they Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance

Duncan Green’s How Change Happens

Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works

If you decide to purchase any of these titles, please support an independent bookstore.