Sunday Morning ~ Following
Tiyeni-tiyeni sacoka, acoka ndi bvundumuku. ~ The one who says, “Let’s go Let’s go” does not leave, the one who gets up leaves.
~ Chewa proverb
June 21, 2020
My aunt Ulca was a waitress in an Italian restaurant. She was a fabulous story teller and would have us in hysterics with descriptions of irritating customers, unethical bosses, and unsanitary conditions of the industrial kitchen. This was before OSHA and, believe me, there was a reason that agency was established. When describing demanding patrons who had more than their fair share of resources she would ask with incredulity and disgust, “How many steaks can one person eat?” She was my father’s sister and knew well what poverty was. Italian immigrants and children of the depression, they faced their share of discrimination and deprivation. Incredibly determined and hard workers, all of them managed to create a comfortable life for themselves but it was by no means easy. Theirs is a story held up for others as a roadmap out of their destitution. See? If they could work hard and prosper, why can’t everyone? But they had advantages I doubt they were conscious of. Skin color was one. Timing was another. But when we are struggling, do we really see our advantages for what they are? I don’t think I do. In the midst of my divorce, when I was falling apart, people would say to me, “Wow, your husband walked away? Left you everything? You’re really lucky.” And I would go ballistic. With unrestrained anger I’d either say, yell, or cry, “Lucky? You think I’m LUCKY? When I win the lottery I’ll say I’m lucky.” And indignantly stomp off crying. But now, I look back and think, wow, I could have lost this home. I was really lucky. The only people I compared myself to at the time were the women with loving marriages and faithful husbands. I didn’t feel lucky next to them. I couldn’t see it then but compared to lots of other women going through divorce, I actually was really lucky. It wasn’t just that I was left with all our possessions. I had supportive friends and family. I was healthy and had a job that paid decently. I had health insurance that covered the counseling I needed. I had a comfortable and safe place to live. It’s so much more than just working hard.
Yesterday I watched the virtual march of the Poor People’s Campaign. It was remarkable. I wondered if I’d be engaged for the whole three hours without the energy from a physical crowd but the effect was stunning. I was blown away by the creative and effective format for the “National Call for Moral Revival” in addressing poverty in our country. This was not focused on race, though systemic racism was a thread. It was about economic inequality and how our system was established to maintain this into eternity. It was powerful. As I listened to each testimony I thought, I’ve heard stories like this before, but there is something different now. I feel the shift. Each time they repeated, “Someone is killing our people and we will not be silent anymore” I felt like the earth was shaking.
I’m learning a lot during this pandemic. I’ve had the luxury to read a new book each week and have learned more about emancipation and Jim Crow than I did in my entire educational career. I didn’t even know what Juneteenth was before this shelter in place. Or how voter suppression started. In addition to racial issues and black history I’ve been eager to learn about what drives people to accrue more than they need. What makes people drunk with power and unable to share? Also what is it that tips the balance into a revolution, a following, a movement? What was it about George Floyd that started a multiracial movement? Why wasn’t it Rodney King? How do you get people to follow? I used to regard followers as somehow weaker than the leaders, but they are not. They just have a different role. I watched a Ted talk by Derek Sivers on this. He says, “The first follower is what turns the lone nut into a leader.”
The nightmare of this presidency may have brought about a lasting change and I want to follow people smarter and stronger than me into a better future.
Love to all,