all those crazy mean people

big questions today. i’m too tired to address them in much depth, but i thought it might be nice to ask y’all what YOU think.

so i’ve been planning a vigil for tomorrow, for work. it’s this big action to protest some bum stuff going on in Minnesota. This means, we get to name, in a public space, things like this:

  • “We reject the false notion that some must give their lives in order that others need not give from their pockets.”
  • “We abhor the thought that a human’s worth might be designated in dollars.”
  • “When so many human lives are endangered by a lack of access to health care, we fail to uphold human dignity.”

This is powerful stuff. Saying this in public, in a sacred, communal way: that is power. At least I think so.

But, someone disagreed with me today. And damn, sometimes I wish Minnesota Nice didn’t have such a firm grasp on me–or who knows, perhaps it is just civility that I have. But basically, I was told a vigil is worthless. No good. In particular: “The Civil War freed the slaves NOT little vigils.”

Now, as B pointed out to (a very frantic) me over dinner tonight, it is TRUE that this “little vigil” i am planning for tomorrow is not likely to change any minds. Just as even large rallies don’t change minds. (I protested the Iraq War in Washington D.C. with tens of thousands of other people before the war even began. It didn’t change that irreversible course of history.) But, as he also said, this doesn’t mean that we should not DO them.

I don’t know, i am just CONVINCED that LANGUAGE is essential to human life. furthermore, it is essential to a CIVIL and CIVIC human life. we humans have very few ways of communicating, other than the breath and vocal chords and tongued consonants and humming all jumbled up into organized words and grammatical structures and poetry. Language is imperfect, but it is ESSENTIAL to life, essential to lived experience, essential to communication, to moving forward. To say that language is not equal with action, that naming injustice is devoid of power, is untrue.

The old addage sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me of course comes to mind.

And yet: what changes a person’s mind more? Yes, the Civil War ended slavery. And it should have happened earlier; slavery should have never existed. But where did the political unrest come from, to fuel energy for a Civil War, had not the abolitionists, with all their little words, not paved the way?

Oh boy. I’ll hate reading this tomorrow… I’m sure my logic is flawed and I sound like I’m comparing myself to abolitionists. Uffda. All this is just me trying to say: PEOPLE ARE CRAZY AND MEAN.


8 Comments on “all those crazy mean people”

  1. morganjhubbard says:

    Hi Al…don’t freak out! A few things spring to mind. First, speech is equivalent to action. In the constitutional democratic republic we’ve set up (and that we all implicitly uphold by paying taxes and consuming services), speech is a kind of action. The reverse is also true. Drawing a sharp line between them is silly. What does this person want…a war for health care?

    Second, speech-action is not all about changing minds. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was not going to be derailed by anything but the most overwhelming groundswell of public opposition. But protesting it was worthwhile, because you were registering your stance with history, for posterity.

    And finally, you’re absolutely right on your last point. Sea changes don’t come from nowhere, sui generis, in non-monarchical societies. They have beginnings (ideas), they have middles (discourse) and they have ends (change). And you can’t start at the end, militating for instantaneous results. You start at the beginning or, in terms of the health care debate, you throw yourself into the fray in the middle–by doing things like holding vigils.

    I hope it goes well!

    • Mrc Hnm says:

      Quick thought, perhaps instead of a vigil your next event could be a discussion of Gramsci’s essay “State and Civil Society – Observations on certain aspects of the structure of political parties in periods of organic crisis.” It’s in the book “Selections from the Prison Notebooks” pp.210-276.

      If you’re interested I’d be happy to help organize. I think this is essential reading for anyone interested in any type of political activism.

  2. Leslie Kruempel says:

    I spend a lot of time thinking about how change happens, but not a lot of time talking to other people about it. So I’m going to read this as an open invitation to dive into the topic. :)

    I love the civic engagement in Minnesota, but it also seems like a lot of preaching-to-the-choir goes on here. Certainly it feels like an accomplishment to get people who are passionate about something together in a room to talk about it. (I’m trying to do it right now). But…is this how our time is best spent?

    There is certainly an element of inspiration and motivation to be considered. When we attend a vigil, or lecture, or community action meeting we reaffirm our commitment to an issue– and hopefully even learn of new information or perspectives that refine our current worldview. I don’t think this should be discounted. Humans are social creatures and language is an important way to develop and reaffirm shared values.

    However, I think it’s important to be mindful of the balance between keeping the troops fired up and enacting meaningful change. And important to be able to recognize one from the other. I think we often lean too much towards the former. And it’s understandable. Enacting real change is hard. People are generally resistant to having their minds and habits changed. It’s a slow process, and measuring success is very difficult. (And oftentimes people’s jobs are at risk if they can’t provide some sort of measured success).

    People’s minds are different, which also makes changing minds on a large scale hard to do. Some people (like you, it sounds like Alison), respond powerfully to language about ideals and universalities. But these kinds of words cause a glazed-over look on the faces of others who like more concrete examples (the image of a mom weeping on Oprah over her family’s inability to pay for health care for her cancer-stricken child, for example). Then there are people like me, who like to understand problems through statistics and systematic structures, whose solutions are often found in some sort of cost-benefit analysis. Of course there are many more modes of decision-making, and people use many in the course of their lives. Some people are always going to find a vigil way more powerful than other people, though.

    So, have your vigil, I say. Seep up the energy you get from the words and bodies around you, and don’t discount your personal experience. But also think about how powerfully these sorts of things contribute to your goals. A little bit? A lot? I’ve noticed that people with liberal arts educations (myself included) have been trained to approach problems through words and thoughts. We read. We discuss. We read some more. We discuss some more. As a result, we get in the habit of seeing a problem and wondering what words and arguments we can use to change minds. But I think it’s less about influencing ideals, and more about making the actions/behaviors we want to see adopted both easier and more desirable.

    One of the ways to do this is to appeal to self-interest. I think this is an underused tool in the nonprofit arsenal. (And no, I don’t mean this in the give $10/month to public radio and we’ll send you a water bottle sort of way). Oftentimes what’s good for the group is good for the individual. GAMC is a great example of this.

    I hope the vigil goes well, and I think it’s good you’re doing it. I just also think it’s good to question the usefulness, too. :)

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