Reclaiming Our Ground–The Empowerment Of Standing Up For Our Lives

Like many of you, I have discouragement fatigue. No matter what we do, it seems that the corporate and and government leaders are determined to take the fast road to hell in a handbasket. We keep waging war, we continue to destroy the environment, people are hungry and sick, too many have lost jobs and homes, our schools and roads are in disrepair. Getting out of bed in the morning sounds like a really bad idea. What difference will it make if we sign one more petition, call our elected officials one more time, let alone head out into frigid temperatures to a protest gathering?

One very good reason is that it is not so much about the impact our actions have on others but rather how our actions empower ourselves. I have written multiple times about the power of protest and standing up for what you believe in (here, here and here) but what is so difficult to capture in words is the spiritual empowerment of standing your ground. I’m not sure how many protests I attended before I came to understand this–quite a few–until one day, standing with a few friends protesting outside of a lecture given by Condoleezza Rice, I found myself feeling literally rooted to the cold sidewalk where we stood. That is something you have to feel to understand, not something that can be adequately said in words. But since that time, whenever I am out on the street, I stop to pay attention to the strength and connectedness that comes from standing your ground.

Wile at a vigil in 2005, two days after being arrested and jailed when trying to enlist at the Times Square Recruiting Center (left to right: Miriam Poser, Joan Wile, Cindy Sheehan, Carole Abrahams, Joan Kaye and Maggie Vall)

Joan Wile, founder of Grandmothers Against the War and one of my sheroes has a wonderful piece on her blog, where she talks about why the sense of empowerment that comes from standing up for what you believe in is so important in these discouraging times (and while both she and I are talking about standing in the literal sense, as I try to do in my writing every day, you can do a whole lot of standing up from a sitting down position :-). Describing the weekly gathering of Grandmothers Against War on the day after George Bush was re-elected she writes,

The other people standing on Fifth Avenue with me were equally depressed and ready to give up the struggle. You’ve never seen so many long faces.

Then, an amazing thing happened. As we stood there with our peace signs and banners, the black clouds in our minds began to waft away. Slowly, we began to smile and chatter in our usual good spirits. By the end of the vigil, we were practically jubilant. Nothing had changed — the grim reality was still the fact that the worst President in history was going to head the government for another four years and reap hideous injustices and catastrophes. But, WE had changed. We had decided to press on and continue battling for our issues.

It was clear that in the act of fighting back, we were able to banish our hopeless feelings.

Eve Tetaz at an anti-war protest in March 2007. By Lori Perdue.

Eve Tetaz at an anti-war protest in March 2007. By Lori Perdue.

Or put another way, in the words of Eve Tetaz, an almost 79 year old who has racked up her 21rst arrest for protesting puts it,

“In everything I do,” she said, flashing her large smile, “I want to be a reflection of my faith.”

Indeed. Imagine the power of what might happen if every person who feels that corporations should not be more powerful than people and every person who is unemployed and every person who cannot afford healthcare and every person who believes in the right to breathable air and drinkable water and every person who has lost a home or lost a child or spouse to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were to gather with their neighbors in the town squares of this country. Not in anger although goodness knows we have every right to be, but simply to empower ourselves with the act of standing up for our lives. That would be a force to be reckoned with.

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