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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 24 I set out on a yearlong pilgrimage to answer questions like these: What does it mean to succeed or fail when it comes to matters of justice? How do we measure the effectiveness of work as messy, epic, and complex as activism? On an individual level, how do we make daily decisions that close the gap between val- ues and actions? What does it look like to be a person operat- ing where, as theologian Frederick Buechner puts it, one’s “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”? I watched as a young man, recently released from prison after serving time for murder, tried to figure out how to use the inter- net for the first time. I rode a bus with twenty-five eighth-grad- ers from the Bronx as they sang every word of Rent. I ate family dinner at an Olive Garden in Detroit, listening in as civil rights era parents puzzled over their daughter’s path to environmental justice. I sat in on a workshop for kids poised to inherit great wealth and determined to give most of it away. I listened to an emotional Q&A at a community college following the screening of a documentary film about the harrowing HIV/AIDS infection rates among black women. And what did I learn? First and foremost, I realized that much citizen engagement or activism is doomed to fail, at least in the short run. The world— in all its glories and gore, cruelty and kindness, destruction and rebirth—is forever in process. For the engaged citizen there are no fireworks, no guaranteed rewards or results. There is just consciousness, intention, community, celebration, perseverance, defeat, burnout, self-care. Activism demands an investment not just of time, but of those tricky twins: devotion and nonattach- ment. It requires discomfort, frustration, and sometimes boredom