United States of Awareness
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.
-Adrienne Rich (from “Natural Resources”)
This year’s 50thanniversary of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy has prompted many of us to reflect on the tumultuous year of 1968. Widespread protests against war, racism and sexism crested into “mass movements,” initiating many of our generation into our first engagement in the arena of political activism. The publication of Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb initiated further demonstrations and a heated debate on the Earth’s “carrying capacity” as it warned of severe environmental consequences stemming from human over-population and unregulated industry. Our country’s divisive participation in the Vietnam War was well underway, even as the Apollo 8 mission returned that same year with the captivating Earthrise photograph—revealing a planet without a trace of the borderlines used to justify countless human conflicts. It was both an unsettling and formative period, to say the least, for many of our generation.
Jump ahead fifty years and we find ourselves immersed once again in what feels like a tsunami of social and environmental upheavals that might cause us to question if anything has changed in half a century. Our news outlets now deliver daily, even hourly, doses of focused acts of human abuse, arrogance, and injustice.
What is not well publicized, however, is the deep-rooted generosity and goodwill that also lives within the heart of our humanity—our resiliency and against-all-odds commitment to nurture basic human and natural rights. Turn our cameras and attention in that direction and we discover hundreds of thousands of decidedly life-affirming initiatives emerging from every corner of our world.
Activist and author, Paul Hawken, is perhaps most notable in attending to these benevolent uprisings. Hawken spent over a decade researching and identifying individuals and groups dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice. In his book, Blessed Unrest, he reports on a worldwide upheaval of regenerative work devoted to serving justice:
“From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.com causes, these groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture… and is arising spontaneously from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts. It is growing and spreading worldwide, with no exception. It has many roots, but primarily the origins are found in indigenous cultures, and in the environmental and social justice movements. Those three sectors, and their sub-sectors, are intertwining, morphing, and enlarging. “
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the unraveling of our world and its reformation are happening at the same time, side by side. One of the more sobering demands of maturity in general—and compelling invitations of “conscious elderhood” in particular—is the summons that aging confers upon us to embrace seemingly opposite truths at the same time. Regarding our involvement in social justice matters, this perspective calls us to be fully involved in our activism and fully detached, at the same time. Elderhood calls us to do our best to imagine and embody a more inclusive and integrated story than the one currently fashioning our human and beyond-human relations—and to reflect an authentically hopeful perspective back to our culture, even as we turn to face and feel the sorrow of all that is being destroyed.
We’ve lived long enough to know that the cause of justice is a monumental undertaking for humanity, measured in “ages” as Adrienne Rich’s poem suggests—decades, generations, centuries—rather than in overnight accomplishment or election-cycle reform. It suggests that even as we remain actively involved, we hold the slow workings of justice with the deep time and deep space awareness that the Earthrise photo opens our minds and hearts toward.
An equal measure of grace and grit seems to be required, as we are each called to find a way to continue to show up and contribute to the blossoming of justice knowing full well that the fruits of our labors may never ripen within the flash of a single lifetime. This non-attachment to seeing immediate reform of what our hearts hold dear is what fuels sustainable commitment and enduring effort to “reconstitute the world.”
Forgive my preaching tone here, for it belies my attainment in these matters. I know what I choose to aim for, yet regularly find myself seduced by fear into choosing sides, capable of the same dehumanizing reactivity that I expect others to live beyond. I experience constant reminders that my own movement toward a unitive state of awareness, and the justice it alone can host, is also a monumental undertaking. Yet I am encouraged, as I stand alongside many others “with no extraordinary power,” working to welcome those parts of the suffering world arriving at the gateway of our hearts—with the recognition that we are opening the door to ourselves.
I’m inspired by the statuesque Lady Justice who models both grit and grace by raising a sword in one hand and a balancing scale in the other, even as I’m challenged by her counsel to proceed blindfolded. I surmise it’s her way of ensuring that our way forward be guided by a deeper faith and knowing than what our physical sight alone can provide.
The pioneers of social justice throughout the ages have bequeathed a legacy of sword-wielding courage and unyielding compassion, building a foundation that enables us to stand and give voice to our own shouts and anthems of peace. And in the moments we speak from emboldened love, we too assume the mantle of effective leadership. May we each recover and trust our most ordinary means of doing so.
Each of our authors has returned from their on-the-ground engagements and personal reflections on social justice to offer a glimpse of what is being revealed to them as significant to the weaving of a new story on such matters.
We recognize that this is a highly sensitive and multi-layered exploration that calls us all into deeper reflection of how we relate and respond to the magnitude of social issues calling for our attention today. The intersectionality of racial, economic, social, and environmental justice is, thankfully, becoming more apparent and increasingly more a part of our national conversation.
We invite you to read and underscore what resonates with the revelations of your own heart on these matters. Note that you can add to the tapestry begun here by posting a comment at the end of each of the following articles. Know that we welcome and grow by your feedback and reflection.
May we act in beauty, act from inspiration, act together . . .
Editor in chief