By Reverend Donna Schaper
Norman Lear, who is about to turn 93, was asked how he made it so long and so well. He responded, “By knowing the difference between what is over and what is next.” That is about as good a sound bite as I can remember. Is the season of our discontent over? Will Dallas be the last in a string of anonymous gunning downs that might have started with Newtown or Orlando or St. Paul or Baltimore or that great town in Colorado, the one named for the flower (Columbine), I can never remember? And if not, what’s next? (By the time you read this, I could easily be tragically tragedy outdated.) And what’s next? What great new surprise will gun down Latino queers having a good time or black men, perpetually targeted, or children whose lunchboxes remain uneaten?
Part of this season’s discontent is that we can’t seem to figure out what is over or what is next. We have lost our sense of continuity and entered a time where we can’t find the dawn or the dusk, the horizon or the border. Our slips are showing. We are falling apart. We are lost. We know the root of the word “vigil” is vigilance. And we are on tragedy overload.
At the very moment that the Dallas news was breaking, I had received an email from one of my favorite people, Te Revesz. Te is one of those indefatigable community organizers who knows how to make things happen. She is a combination of Francis Scott Piven and Saul Alinsky, who has a touch of the Anthony Lane in her. She moves slow and fast at the same time. Her very intelligent email to me three weeks after Orlando read, “New York has shown our sympathy and solidarity with the dead and wounded victims of ISIS-inspired violence in Orlando. Since then we have seen an explosion of ISIS-inspired violence in the Middle East. Given the international nature of our city, is there a way we can show our sympathy and solidarity with the hundreds [of] civilians (and security personnel) who were killed and wounded over the last few days in Ankara, Bagdad [sic], Dhaka, and Medina?” We’ve been doing nothing but vigils and memorials for a long, long time. She wanted to do one more. I don’t. I want to do something besides be “vigilant.”
My theory of how change happens is double. We combine constant pressure with creative pressure. We add ethical spectacle to standard community organizing. We combine Francis’ insistence on movements with Saul’s insistence on organization. Then we add a dash of humor, a touch of salt, a piece of irreverence. Then we disrupt. We make it too hard for people to carry on carrying on. We interrupt the status quo so creatively and consistently that it just can’t keep going.
In my vigil exhaustion, I remembered Margaret Sanger, who reportedly stood on the steps of Judson Memorial Church in 1929 and read a letter she had written to the Attorney General of the State of New York. It informed him that she was going to begin distributing birth control in the State of New York, illegally, and wanted him to be the first to know. Sanger exemplifies movement and organization building; she also knew how to add a touch of salt to her stuff.
It is past time to be furious. It is past time to act up. It is time to double down on change.