As an activist I often find myself considering what constitutes courage because there's a fairly fine line between bravery and stupidity in my experience. In my efforts to create positive change, I always try to be conscientious of my capacity for human error and misconception. I am always questioning myself, my methods, and my motivations. I think second guessing ones self can be healthy as long as it's not becoming self-destructive.
I honestly believe that one of the scariest things to do in the world today is to be truly honest about who you are, what you believe, and what you've experienced. We live in a society that prizes artifice over substance in so many cases. Degrees are prized over actual real world experience. Image is prioritized over reality. Profit comes before everything including human life and the well being of the very Earth that gave us life and sustains us. Our priorities as a society are all screwed up, and and the only way to fix that is if good people refuse to be silenced by the multitudinous oppressions of fear and ignorance that currently dominate our society.
I have no doubts that it is scary to speak your mind. I know from personal experience how it can make your whole body shake, your knees go weak, and your stomach turn inside out. That's never stopped me though (longer than it took me to finish vomiting).
Something I don't talk about as often as I should is what it's like to be an introvert with social anxiety who is also a social organizer. I think a lot of people see me standing in front of a crowd and assume it's because I'm fearless.... but that's not it at all. I stand there because I am afraid of what will happen to the world and to the marginalized if I DON'T stand there. I know that I have the means, motivation, opportunity, and privilege to be able to stand there. Standing in that spot never ever gets less scary or intimidating, but I think the moment you stop doubting yourself is when you begin to lose the way. Real life heroes are seldom truly the confident cool collected characters Hollywood presents us. In reality it's usually the quiet ones you'd never expect, and they seldom work alone. Don't ever think that heroes aren't tired and scared, because they are.
When you feel overwhelmed or daunted by all the tasks ahead and reforms that need to be made in the name of reducing human suffering and improving the quality of life for every citizen of the United States of America no matter how marginalized... just remember the Wizard of Oz's words to the cowardly lion:
“You have plenty of courage, I am sure," answered Oz. "All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Without a doubt we live in troubled times and now, more than ever, there is always potential consequence for speaking out publicly (whether it be in the form of police harassment, job discrimination, or internet vigilantism). However, that is exactly why we cannot afford complacency. If we stay quiet the fear will only get closer and more real. The gulfs of division will only grow wider, and our society will only grow more fragmented and easy to manipulate, bend, and pervert into forms too terrible to consider (as has happened in different times and places in history such as Germany and even here in the USA during World War 2).
We are farther down the road to perdition than many would like to admit, but we are not yet past the point of no return. We can change things. We can join together to speak our minds even if it scares us half to death.... because in the end the truth tends to win out and there is always strength in numbers. In this day and age speaking your mind can be an act of heroism. It can inspire others to keep pushing for changes that ultimately reduce human suffering. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to express a thought... an idea... and then before you know it that idea takes hold and a movement begins. I've seen it with my own two eyes several times over the last five years. Thousands of people come out of the woodwork sometimes when one person stands up and says no more. As Rosa Parks said when asked about her famous refusal to give up her seat on the bus which helped spark the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott:
“People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
― Rosa Parks
The great freedom march rally-- Cobo Hall-- June 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Mrs. Rosa Parks, David Boston (Parade Marshall)
via the New York Public Library Digital Collections
Each and every one of us has that power. The power to say we are tired. To tell our politicians "no more". We all have the power to gather together our friends and family and work together nonviolently in our own unique ways using our own unique skill sets to each tackle a corner of this massive social problem with intelligence, compassion, empathy, and survivor ingenuity.
Now more than ever Candidates originating from a grassroots level are seeing increased support and interest (such as MJ Hegar and her recent wildly successful viral campaign video). I believe as Millennials come of age this trend will only continue. The simple fact of the matter is that Millennials for the most part are very well aware of the concept espoused by the Wizard of Oz. Real courage is showing up even when you're scared. Millennials are more politically active than any other generation since the Civil Rights era. They love a good photo op and aren't afraid to show up and make themselves heard. They love the internet and are great at leveraging the power of technology. So I can't wait to see what this generation and our kids today have in store for the future. I hope positive changes are coming, and that young people especially will remember their true courage and find confidence in themselves when it counts. This is a vital time to support young activists and the ideals and aspirations of our children.
We cannot afford to lose any more ground, as evidenced by the atrocities occurring along the border. Like Rosa parks I am tired in ways I cant even begin to explain in a short blog post. I can never know the horror of being oppressed for the color of my skin, but as a survivor of human trafficking I know firsthand the horrors of being held prisoner in a powerless situation and being denied basic human dignities such as a warm blanket, a shower, a voice, and food. I would never wish that experience on another human being and that is why I organized the Flock to the Border event in an attempt to nonviolently speak truth to power and call for an end to the abuses being carried out on children too young to even understand fully the scope of what is being done to them, and to restore some small measure of the dignities stripped from them through small acts of kindness such as replacing essential items like underwear or hygiene supplies that are often taken away and discarded during detainment and providing phone cards to allow them to reconnect with family and friends (click here if you'd like to donate to participate in this action from afar).
Courage isn't being fearless. It isn't trying to fix the whole world with one action. Courage is saying "We can't fix it all, but what CAN we do to reduce the suffering one human life at a time?" and then doing something, no matter how small and grassroots it may seem at first. It's standing your ground even when your knees shake and saying "I'm tired. No more." It's asking your friends, family, and colleagues to stand with you and share in your truth and help amplify your truth. Courage is supporting your fellow activists and human beings when they find it in themselves to share their truth. True courage lies within us all.
In order to find this courage we must stop obsessing about what we can't do and what limitations we face, and ask ourselves what CAN we do? Can you build a website? Are you a social butterfly and great at organizing social events? Do you have an artistic skill that can be used to speak truth in ways that impact the emotions or tell a personal story? Do you love walking around your neighborhood and meeting your neighbors and talking to them about the things that matter to you? ALL of these skills would be valued and put to use within this organization or with one of the many amazing organizations I can refer you to. Please feel free to contact the ATX Coven of the Corvid if you would like assistance locating a volunteer opportunity that might be a good fit for you.
I believe that somewhere within almost everyone lies a spark of greatness. It's just a matter of time and opportunity for that spark to catch fire. Sometimes all it takes is one person speaking their truth and inspiring another person and helping their spark catch fire, and it creates a chain reaction of inspiration and hope that ultimately brings light into the universe. True courage is speaking the truth even when you are terrified. It's showing up when you'd rather stay home in bed safe and warm. It's doing whatever you can, whenever you can, because every effort matters in this great struggle to end human suffering. None of us can conquer that specter alone. It's been haunting us since the beginning of time, but one thing we learned early on is that we are stronger together and that truth persists to this day. The more of us that find our true courage, the better. It's not about the spotlight anymore. It's not about winning one political office or political race. It's not about getting people to attend just one event. It's about finding hope within ourselves so we can share it with others and gather the strength to unite against all the pain and injustice. That is true courage, and I wish it for everyone who reads this.
In closing I would like to remind you all that the Grand Canyon didn't happen overnight during one great flood. It happened one persistent raindrop at a time flowing one after another over millions of years, and eventually that stubborn trickle became the mighty Colorado river that helped carve one of the largest canyons on the face of the earth (that's above sea level).
Post and Word art by Andrea Hughes