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Lions Roar : September 2019
➢ page 81 Don’t Just Sit There—Act When we sit in meditation, we awaken to oneness. Then we take compassionate action. That’s what drives ANDY HOOVER’s work at the ACLU. “IF YOU DEDICATE YOURSELF to a life of compassion, is it possible you still may have to engage in a fight?” This was the question I posed in May to a newly ordained priest in my Buddhist community. As part of the ordination ceremony, our new clergy engage in dharma combat, when any- one in the sangha can pepper them with questions. “Yes,” the new priest replied. He then cited the tragic death of Kendrick Castillo, an eighteen-year-old who had died four days earlier engaging a gunman at his school in Colorado. He disrupted the attack and saved an unknown number of lives. It wasn’t quite the answer I expected—at least not the answer I had in my own head—but it was certainly a relevant answer for our times. For the last nineteen years, I’ve been engaged in a fight, but one of the nonviolent variety. Since 2000, I have been an active participant in civil rights advocacy in Pennsylvania, first as a volunteer in the death penalty abolition movement and then, starting in 2004, as a staffer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1920, the ACLU is the leading defender of con- stitutional rights in the United States. We carry out our mis- sion through legal action, policy advocacy, and by partnering with street-level activists. Our work goes beyond the absolutist positions on free speech and separation of church and state for which we are best known. The ACLU’s work today is advancing constitutional ideals for a twenty-first century America. We’re taking the values embedded in the constitution and using them as a jumping-off point for a wide range of advocacy, including equality for transgender and gender nonconforming people, fairness in how immigrants are treated, and a total rethinking of the criminal justice system. Not coincidentally, the timeline of my involvement in activism coincides with the time that I’ve been practicing Buddhism. It was exactly nineteen years ago that I first picked up Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, followed by Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, and began to meditate. It was my Buddhist practice that motivated me to take compassionate action. To be honest, Buddhism did not flip my politics—growing up in the Lutheran church, I had always felt drawn to the Gospels’ teachings of good work. But it gave me a completely new lens for engaging in public action. Rather than taking action because an authority figure said to love our neighbors, which is nice, Buddhism awakened me to the reality that we are all intercon- nected—all living beings, the earth, the universe in its entirety. Awakening to oneness was a call to practice compassion, because That’s how deep it goes—our very liberation is being held hos- tage by white supremacy and patriarchy. We’ve internalized oppres- sion. We’ve internalized the idea that we should be divided, that we should be separated, that we are different, that we are better, that someone’s less than, that I am less than. I’ve internalized it too, and every day, with every waking breath, I push against it. It’s an inside-out job. We need the container that our spirit- ual life provides and to find the resonant truth in ourselves that helps us see more clearly what is happening outside. We need to understand the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to know and the parts that society tells us we should be ashamed of. We need to understand our history and our context and then live through that, live into that truth. We don’t have to know the answers. We just have to choose to live into the truth. But the truth, both universal and ever-un - folding from moment to moment, is not easy for most of us to apprehend. We would like it to be clear, to be fixed. We want to have a neat, packaged answer. We want somebody to come and give us the answer, to tell us what to do, so we can abdicate our responsibility, give up our agency, and hope for the best. But you don’t get to walk a path of liberation and not be accountable. First and foremost, liberation is about choosing to be 100 percent accountable for who and how you are. To be 100 percent committed to the liberation of all. If that sounds like a really big job that you are going to be work- ing at for the rest of your life, it is. There are other things you could be doing with your time. If you choose them, that’s fine. You just don’t get to say you’re walking the path of liberation. ANDY HOOVER is the director of communications at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and an ordained Buddhist priest at the Blue Mountain Lotus Society in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The views expressed in this piece are his own. CELEBRATING YEARS PHOTOBYCAMBRIAEBATES/ACLU-PA LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2019 75