If we are going to take spiritual growth seriously, we are going to have to take doing justice seriously. We’re going to have to get to work reforming society. It takes a revolution to bring justice to life. Justice doesn’t come about because everyone agrees that it ought to, or because everyone thinks it would be nice if it did. Agreeing that it ought to be done, and being willing to pay higher taxes, or go on a hunger strike, or be arrested and ignore the terms of probation and be arrested again—in order to do justice—are different things.
Carl Jung says “We are what we do—not what we talk about doing, or say we will do.” Doing is the foundation of being. When we do what needs to be done in each situation as it arises, we become who we need to be. The path of spiritual growth is the path of action in the sphere of the hard and fast realities of the world of physical existence. The status quo loves a good book study, and is quite pleased when we gather to talk of spiritual truth. It is when we translate talk into action—and when action opens our eyes to what truly needs to be said—that the status quo takes notice, and responds.
There is an inequitable distribution of wealth in this country, and in the world. Do you think that is going to even itself out just because it ought to? Do we think it ought to? What is the mechanism by which that can happen? How about higher tax rates with fewer loopholes (so that you can’t charge housekeeping services or the cars you drive off to the business, for example) for those who have higher incomes? Think that will ever happen just because it ought to? How about a livable minimum wage? Think that will ever happen just because it ought to? The people keeping that from happening are the people who profit handsomely from it not happening. Think they are going to volunteer to serve the working poor? Maybe in a soup kitchen once a year, but that’s as far as their service is likely to go.
The status remains quo because it is too complicated to alter the status—and it works to the benefit of the status to keep it complicated, so that it takes too much effort over too long a period of time to change anything. We spend our time talking about what ought to happen, and practically none of it organizing and carrying out the revolution to make it happen. Besides, we have a fairly comfortable life, and we aren’t going to hand it over for the sake of improving some poor, homeless person’s standard of living. A living wage, affordable housing and health care are things we can agree ought to happen, but they aren’t going to happen without a revolution.
Ah, but. That asks hard things of us. We can’t just make a monetary donation and pull off a revolution. The Civil Rights Movement was a revolution. People died and suffered hardship in the service of their idea of how things ought to be. Do you know of anyone who is willing to die in the service of a living wage? Gun control, racism, homosexual and transsexual rights are all movements in waiting—waiting for revolutionaries fed-up enough with the way things are to force change into being.
The easiest way to mount this kind of revolution is to vote it into place. Every person who is qualified to vote has to vote every time there is an election, from city council to the Office of President. The status quo depends upon people not voting. It rails enough against those who are calling for change, and creates enough fear in the hearts of it’s faithful base to turn them out in numbers large enough to win close elections—but those numbers don’t have to be very large.
Less than 45% of registered voters turn out to vote in most elections. 50% of 45% is only 25% of the voters registered to vote. If you cannot scare 25% of the registered voters into voting for you, you should be ashamed. The money spent by the status quo in campaigns in local and national elections has been spent to scare its faithful base into turning out en masse to vote. It only needs 25% of registered voters to vote in most elections. The lethargic 75% give elections away time and again.
Rousing ourselves to vote is nothing. And it is the one thing that will make an immediate and lasting impact upon the way things are done. The more people who vote, the more likely the base of the status quo will be out-voted. This will certainly be true if those who vote, vote for the candidates most likely to do things differently than the NRA, the Tea Party and the Religious Right want things to be done.
We have become a society, and a culture, of personal virtue. We work on personal growth. We follow our bliss. We talk of finding the path. We seek enlightenment. We read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and nothing changes in the way the world works. I have spent more time here recommending that you be “true to yourself within the context and circumstances of your life,” than recommending that you spend your time involved with community organization for social change, or working with voter registration and getting people to the polls. Well, you can only be true to yourself for so long before you simply can’t stand yourself one more minute if you don’t participate in some form of organization for social change. But that kind of organization doesn’t get enough emphasis. Who knows where to go to join the movement and start the revolution?
Self-improvement has been the focus of a generation (or two). AA would have us believe that “acceptance is the solution to all of my problems today.” In some circles, understanding is held to be the path to peace. Well. Personal virtue does not transform social vice. The title of Reinhold Niebuhr’s book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, speaks directly to our plight. We don’t make the world a better place to be just by working to improve ourselves.
In the south in the sixties, it was said, “You can’t legislate morality,” and “Change people’s hearts and society will change.” These are the positions that keep everything comfortably the same forever. The contrary truth/fact is that if you change a person’s behavior, her/his thinking (or that of his/her children) will change. You change a person’s mind/heart by changing what that person does, by changing how that person lives. You don’t wait to get her/his permission. You don’t wait until everybody is on board. You don’t wait to achieve consensus. You say, “Jim Crow laws are wrong!” You say, “Racism—racial hatred—white supremacy—is wrong!” You say, “Separate But Equal is wrong!” You say, “There is going to be a new way of doing things starting tomorrow, and nobody has to like it, but everybody has to do it!” And you make it stick. A generation later everyone wonders why things were done the way things were done a generation earlier.
Personal virtue leaves society unchanged. We have to seek social virtue with the same degree of fervor and commitment that we seek self-improvement and personal growth. We have to be organized. We have to be connected. We have to be smart. We have to be determined. And we have to be willing to take what comes. It takes a revolution to make things different than they are. If you make the revolutionaries comfortable enough, things will stay the same forever.
It’s too bad about this country’s non-existent energy policy (cutting more trees and drilling more oil wells isn’t an energy policy). But, who is going to lead the revolution? In Hitler Germany, it was too bad about the Jews, but who was going to lead the revolution? We all have an idea of what needs to be changed on a cultural/social level. We don’t have a clue about how to go about effecting the changes, and we don’t have the wherewithal to do it if we did. When you’re up against Big Money, it’s a problem.
Once, in the deep south, I wrote a view point column for the local weekly paper. One week I wrote about a large timber company buying up tracts of land, clearing the hardwood and planting pine trees. The very next week the paper ran a story about the timber company donating $10,000 to the town to develop a parks and recreation program. That’s what I call a public relations program. Money can tweak public opinion to the extent that wrong looks like right and the revolution never gains momentum, or stands a chance. The forces of change and transformation (read: revolution) are up against it from the start.
The Move Your Money Movement was a beautiful response to the corruption exposed by the housing collapse but it never gathered the support it should have had. It is very difficult to keep people focused and moving in the direction of change. We have very short little attention spans. We lack the persistence and determination, commitment and resolution required to make things different at the level upon which things need to be different. And the status quo, which owns the media, keeps new issues slamming into us from every side so that we cannot begin to gather enough resolve to organize a revolution that stays focused on one issue over the length of time it would take to change things.
It is not difficult to find something that needs changing. Finding the people who are willing to do the work over time, that’s the problem. We’re too comfortable to be revolutionaries. We have too much to lose, too little to gain. We have to realize that being true to ourselves, and doing what needs to be done in each situation as it arises, means, at least, rousing ourselves enough to vote in every election, great and small. If we do that much, things will change radically for the better for the majority of United States citizens, over night.