all/nothing

You are you who are. You are not a bombthrower. You value friendship over allyship, collaboration over partisanship, civility over cruelty, cocktails over asceticism, and you’ve used this space to argue repeatedly for those things. Not everyone will agree that you’ve made the right decisions, or that these approaches are the rights ones in our dystopian Trumpland, so you’ll need to acknowledge that the problems of the present are big enough to require all sorts of solutions. Not everyone who cares about these issues will agree with your approach, and – you know what? – that is just fine. You’ll also need to make sure that the affective approaches you care about aren’t understood as a more “reasonable alternative.”

If you aren’t already aware of the wonderfully delightful — not to mention deeply wise — Mushim Ikeda, you should be. Here’s here website, her Facebook page, and a series of talks she had with my coconspirator over at the DharmaRealm.

I bring her up here because the subject of this post is activism here in the new (not normal) reality of 2017. One could say a lot about her activist work and, by extension, the stuff going on over at the EBMC — but for now I want to brig your attention to her “vow not to burn out.” In sum (and grossly paraphrasing), she argues that the work of revolution takes long, sustained effort, and it’s possible you will wear yourself out, become bitter and disenchanted or just plain exhausted, and won’t be worth very much to the movement let alone to yourself. This is “self-care,” to be sure, but not in the trite all-too-easily coopted version that allows one to replace activism with self-centeredness. This is self-care with a purpose.

Increasingly, I am of the opinion that one strategy toward realizing this vow is the awareness of who one is, where one is at. In his final interview as president with Trevor Noah, (still my) President Obama made an interesting observation that not everyone can do everything — some folks need to be out on the street protesting, others folks need to be in the office passing legislation, still others can get away with using humor or comedy and speak directly to power. And too often we complain that so-and-so didn’t do enough or didn’t say the right thing and forget that not everyone can do everything.

It’s not all or nothing.

I often get the sense that the progressive left acts under the assumption that we need a unified “agenda” and that we all act accordingly. This is, after all, how the right was so successful. Except, not really. First, the right was successful, in part, by appealing to the basest fears of the electorate and local activism — showing up at party, state and local government meetings and town halls to express their frustrations and fears about a handful of select and often polarizing issues that distracted us from larger unifying concerns, local activism that was coupled with clear and apparent gerrymandering which only reinforces political party divisions across this county. Moreover, the progressive left may not need a unified agenda (and this is really a thought that just occurred to me right now and may be wholly incorrect) because the progressive left is built on the idea of inclusivity, that we’re stronger united in our diversity than we are divided. Such radial inclusivity necessarily means that finding consensus always means compromise and that we must entertain and hold simultaneously what may, on the surface, appear to be contrasting view points.

If that’s the case, moving forward, we need to do, at least, the following two things: (1) become local rabble rousers and (2) be forgiving of one another. Of the former, I simply mean that we need to get involved. I’ve been to local city council meetings. They’re a drag. But they’re also how things get done. Things don’t get done every four years during a presidential election — they get done during regular legislative sessions. Show up. Of the latter, I simply mean that we need to stop arguing amongst ourselves about the “right” way to be an activist and respect that each of us has our own unique talents and locations that dictate the kinds of choices we make and how we engage the revolution. And that’s okay.

Which brings me to that quote I started this post off with. It’s from occasional blogger and historian Matthew Pratt Guterl and is a good reminder that we are who we are. Some of us are predisposed to take to the streets. Others write letters to the editor. Some of us are nerdy academics whose work may seem irrelevant to the revolution but is nevertheless crucial (if for no other reason that we impose critical thinking upon our students). His post is not a to-do list for everyone; it’s a to-do list for himself.

It is also, in a nod to Sarah Kendzior — who saw the writing on the wall regarding the president-elect before any of us — and her wish that we write down what we value, to keep us honest, and remind us what we’re fighting for, when it is threatened to be lost.

And so, having said all of that, I’ll not bore my reader with a long list of what I hope to do in the new year. I will simply say this: as the Dean of a small graduate school and Buddhist seminary in this liberal bubble of Berkeley, I will use what authority I have to lead my community with wisdom and compassion, reminding our students that we sit at the intersection of the best that the Western and Buddhist academic traditions have to offer — critical inquiry and service, born of wisdom and compassion, to sentient beings. I will not sideline my research because I believe my academic interests not only “make meaning out of history,” they also matter for the persons and communities I study, the persons and communities I care about, deeply. I will be present at home, to raise my daughter to be a kind warrior and advocate for others. I will take care of myself so that I can do this work as long as it takes.

Let’s fight the good fight.

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