Today, for Martin Luther King day, I want to talk about what it takes to create a movement that really does accomplish change.
Marshall Ganz is a master of movements. I first heard of him during a retreat in 2012; you can see on his Wikipedia page all the movements he’s been involved with, from the Freedom Riders in Mississippi to the United Farm Workers to the Obama campaign. Successful movements.
What does that take?
Here’s how PBS’s Bill Moyers introduced his 2013 interview with Ganz:
How do you handle the grim news of inequality, corruption, poverty, dysfunction and buffoonery that washes over us every day? Well, you can tune out and ignore it; pretend it will go away until it’s too late or you can look around, find kindred spirits and throw your energies into the fight for justice.
A moment later musician Tom Morello of the band Rage Against the Machine says this, in a clip from an earlier show:
There’s two ways to approach history. You sit in your armchair and you watch it on the news and you return to your PlayStation. Or you get out in the streets and you make it.
It’s clear which path Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. chose, and I think it’s time for the patient movement in healthcare to be as effective. King was killed for it, but as he stood on that motel balcony in Memphis, the day after his “mountaintop” speech (video), he obviously didn’t fear what many had threatened, because he knew what was right and that what was right would outlast him.
To hear from Ganz, someone who’s succeeded repeatedly, watch that 34 minute video. Here’s the transcript. In the context of being an activist, this passage rang especially clear to me:
There were three questions posed by a 1st century Jerusalem scholar, Rabbi Hillel, when asked “How do we, how do we understand what we are to do in the world?”
And he responded with three questions. The first one’s to ask yourself, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” It’s not a selfish question, but it is a self-regarding question. Sort of saying, “Ask yourself what you’re about, what you value, what you have to contribute, what…” But then the second question is, “If I am for myself alone, what am I?” But it, which is, it’s to even be a who and not a what is to recognize that we are in the world in relationship with others and that our capacity to realize our own objectives is inextricably wrapped up with the capacity of others to realize theirs.
And finally, “If not now, when?” The time for action is always now, because it’s often only through action that we can learn what we need to learn in order to be able to act effectively in the ways that we intend. And the fact that they’re questions is also really important to me, because it suggests that this work, this work of organizing, leadership is not about knowing, it’s about learning.
And it’s about asking and it’s about understanding that it is about dealing with the uncertain. It is about probing the unknown. It’s not about control. It’s about, it’s about learning through purposeful experience.
More to come.