So They Won't Change Me

Some years ago I read about A.J. Muste and something he said. Looking for that quote, I came across this passage from Denise Roy's essay, "The Mother is Standing" in the anthology, The Maternal is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change (2008) -- which includes the line from Muste that I was looking for:
"Our protest that Good Friday morning did not change the world, at least as far as we can see. Nevertheless, it changed me, and it changed our community. A reporter once asked A.J. Muste -- a social activist who, during the Vietnam War, stood outside the White House night after night -- 'Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?'

"'Oh,' Muste replied, 'I don't do this to change the country. I do this so the country won't change me.'

"When I am willing to cross the line of how much I think I can love, I am changed. When I am more in touch with what I love than what I fear, I take a stand. My prayer is that more and more of us, on behalf of all children, will use the energy of a mother to touch the seeds of courage and love within us for the sake of the world."
Don't get me -- or A.J. Muste -- wrong: knowing what we stand for, and standing for it, does change the country. And the world. There's certainly a place for strategic thinking, and choosing where to put our energy for maximum effect. But we never get to the strategy questions unless we are clear and firm about who we are -- what we are willing to stand for even when a particular instance, or a million particular instances, make no apparent difference at all. Taking action that grounds us in our own values is ultimately the only thing that can change the world.

On Sun Feb 25 afternoon, Cindy Davidson and I were outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's home in Mt. Kisco. We were there participating in a vigil calling for the Governor to be more active on climate change: stop statewide fossil fuel projects, including shutting down the Algonquin pipeline; release the results of a risk assessment study of the pipeline that the Governor ordered two years ago; and commit New York to being fossil-fuel-free by 2030. It was a chill and drizzly afternoon. Soon there was no feeling in my toes. Still I was glad to be there -- glad to be putting my shivering body on the side of love for our planet.

When a reporter asked to speak with me, she asked a few questions and then pointed out that the Governor did not appear to be home -- so how could we hope to have any affect on him? At that moment, A.J. Muste's words came to mind. I didn't quote them quite right, but was close.

When we place our bodies into the postures that show what we love, what we care about, it changes us -- and strengthens us against the kind of change that would be a weakening of our commitments. It solidifies us as the beings we are, screws our courage to the sticking place, secures us against the dissolution, dissipation, and distraction that so easily happens. When we are unmoved in our resolve to be people who stand for loving life and our planet home that sustains us -- people who will not be changed into anything more complacent -- then power that changes the world can take root in us.

Channel 12's News Story

See also:
The Examiner, "Protestors Rally Outside Cuomo’s House, Demand Pipeline Risk Study"
LoHud, "Governor must reveal risks of fracked gas pipeline near nuclear storage"
MidHudson News, "Activists call on Cuomo to be ‘a climate hero’"
Patch, "Faith Groups Hold Environmental Vigil At NY Governor's House"
FIOS 1, "Activists call on Gov. Cuomo to take up commitment to clean energy: Interfaith group held vigil outside of governor’s home in Mount Kisco"

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