Magazine article Tikkun

The Necessity of Action

Magazine article Tikkun

The Necessity of Action

Article excerpt

ACT NOW

I recently spent five weeks traveling through the Midwest and Northeast, speaking about the Tikkun Community's perspective on the Middle East and organizing local chapters of the Tikkun Campus Network. I spoke about Israel-Palestine, about growing up in South Africa, about spiritual activism, and above all about the need to recognize our common humanity as a first step to social change. One of the responses I heard most often was this: "I'm not an activist, but this just speaks to me, and I feel the need to do something."

I am an activist. So when I heard this kind of response, I was simultaneously excited that my listener was "ready to do something" and also perplexed that they would not identify as an activist, as if "activist," like "feminist," had become a taboo cultural identity. I understand, as Joel Schalit argues in this issue, that the word "activist" has come to connote a lopsided hierarchy, but there is not just one kind of activist, nor one kind of activism.

Indeed, all over the world, all kinds of people are raising their voices against the apparatus of power in nonviolent protest. In Italy, for example, a country roughly a fifth our size, one million took to the streets to protest war in Iraq. Yet, in the United States, one hundred thousand comprises a massive demonstration. Is it that Americans are indifferent? Do we just lack time or energy? I'd say Americans don't "do" more because of the singular forms of alienation that our excessively materialist-and resultantly individualized, community-deprived-culture manufactures. We don't join efforts that lie "beyond the establishment" until we feel needed; until we are actively pulled in. Until then, we don't believe our activism can have any effect.

We must learn to fight against this feeling of powerlessness. Even though it may seem near impossible to topple the behemoth of global capital, nonviolent direct action-whether it be a rally, protest, civil disobedience, or any other manifestation of organized opposition that falls outside of established channels of dissent-does make a difference. Advocacy, education, alternative media-these are all vital forms of raising consciousness, but none of them precludes the necessity of nonviolent direct action. First and foremost, direct action is something we do for ourselves, to unite us as a community. A successful action is the result of thorough planning, hard work, and truckloads of creativity Given the weight of current power constructs, a communal experience like this is a miracle of shared hope. That feeling of connection is the sort of thing that can keep us going even when the Republicans have won both houses and the nation is off to war. …

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