Accidental Activist

It’s Election Day Eve, the most important election since I became a naturalized American citizen in 1972, years after I was eligible through marriage, the delay in protest of the Viet Nam War. The Tallahassee yoga studio shootings in the same week we mourned the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, weighs on me, especially as a yoga instructor who signs off each class with ‘Shanti, shanti, shanti, (peace) and a resident of a state where meaningful gun reform has been a non-starter. You do all you can: join an Indivisible group, host a house party for so-called Hot Democrats, canvass your neighborhood, join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Women’s March, Hustle-remind voters of their duty. And I’ll never understand why so many do not exercise their franchise.

I’m in awe of the commitment and energy of my activist colleagues in these resistance groups. My genetic material is skewed toward civil service, and I inherited from at least two generations a faith in Government with a capital G, as if it were a kindly parent with the responsibility to protect and bring out the best in its citizens. America even more so, I’ve always believed. What other founding documents even mention ‘the pursuit of happiness?’ It’s worth fighting for.

Voting was something of a novelty in my native Burma (now Myanmar). When I became eligible at 18, I embraced it with the same alacrity I had absorbed my parents’ post WWII optimism about the prospects for our newly independent democracy. Two years later, I saw how quickly this could be overturned one dawn in 1962, when we were roused by the sound of explosions in the direction of the university. Within hours of the military takeover, politicians, dissident students, journalists, and supreme court justices, were rounded up like criminals and held without trial for what would be years. One of these was the editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper, and my much-loved boss. Nothing like this could ever happen here, right? It’s unthinkable.

But then, so was the possibility that the birthright issue could affect my two children, given that their father was an American citizen. Most knowledgeable people (on both sides of the aisle) say this is a phony threat. But in light of the whiplash change we all live with these days, I (and my kids) would be unwise to ignore it.

And yet, we cannot give in to despair. People have been sharing We Are the World on Facebook, and the Jewish nurse who cared for the wounded Pittsburgh shooter wrote a deeply moving article on why and how she felt compelled to do that. On a book tour in the UK, Anne Lamott memorably said, “Earth is forgiveness school.” I share these items because I hope more people might read and even share them, especially the people in my life the least likely to. My ‘friend’ list holds many people I barely know, added in the flurry of my early ‘why not?’ days of social media, about four years that feel like forever. The numerically best response to a post of mine I’ve seen lately is an indication of how hungry we are to lighten up, have some fun, return to normal. We were having brunch with some friends this week, and my ever-playful spouse grabbed the doily on his plate, tore it in half, and inserted it under the collar of his shirt. A borrowed pair of our friend’s eyeglasses and voila! our joyful tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, captured on smart phone and posted. A little explosion of hearts, likes, and comments followed.

Times like these, I think about my friend and Transition Movement colleague, Jean, who is busy creating a spiritual center on the acres of property in another state, on which she and her family launched their dream to live in harmony with nature — permaculture, bee-keeping, to name a couple of their practices. This new direction began with spontaneous community gatherings around bonfires, with music and food, and shared dreams of the future. The family, with a few partners, aims to evolve that into a more formal center and I gladly wrote a ‘seed’ money donation. Recently, in response to an email lament of mine about the state of the country and world, Jean had this to offer: “… perhaps the most revolutionary act is to have FUN.”

This puts me in mind of Wendell Berry’s quote (Manifesto): “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” I like it so much, I’m using it to inspire the new version of this blog, Transition Tales. Same URL for now, but with content more reflective of where I am now (in Tree pose, on the edge.) The earlier posts and the tags remain for now. It is time for a change. Tomorrow, may it be so!

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