I've been thinking about the importance of grief lately, about how we work with grief in the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) community, and about how important it is in the lives of activists. Then something timely happened. A long-distance friend who has participated in some of my teleconference NVC offerings for activists asked if I had heard what happened at the rainbow gathering in Florida (yes, I know it is debated whether or not this was a "true" rainbow gathering, but that is how I got the news).
I quickly did a news search and discovered two people were seriously injured and one shot dead at a rainbow-inspired gathering in Florida. While these people may not be your definition of "activist," they are at least on the periphery of a wider counter-cultural group, many of whom participate in social change in some shape or form.
In the wake of this event newspapers are publishing various reports that seem fairly unbiased, but do not tell the whole story as I am hearing on rainbow list servs and from friends. All that I got from the news was the injuries, nothing about how or why the fight broke out. There was alcohol involved. But it sounds like more specifically, there was a fight over burning tires, taking pictures, and a phone thrown in a fire.
What was most interesting to me is what people were saying in the comments of these articles. The rainbow-affiliated folks are mostly saying that this gathering was not affiliated with the rainbow gathering. This is many people's first instinct: to disassociate, because they (we) don't want to suffer the consequences of a reputation as an unsafe place that locals don't want coming to their town. The regular rainbow attenders point out the differences between this gathering and the usual rainbow way of doing things: alcohol vs no alcohol, permits vs no permits. As I read these comments, I felt both distant from the situation and sad. I wrote on one news site that, regardless of the choices these folks made and the unwanted repercussions that may have on people's biases about rainbow gatherings, this is a sad time for the injured folks and their friends and families. I wished them compassion and healing in their grief.
Behind the scenes, on rainbow list servs, for example, things are a little different. Some people are asking for help fundraising for the medical expenses of one of those critically injured, and also for the costs of transporting remains of the person who died to his family. Others are critiquing the folks more specifically, having met them, saying they will not send money because this was a matter of inevitability for someone (choosing to?) live that lifestyle.
There is more than one thing to grieve in this situation. There is grief for the individual who died, for those injured, and for how this will affect all those affiliated with the rainbow gathering--for taking a big step back in any progress made towards cultivating trust with more conservative society. People are angry, which we are told is a normal part of grief.
There is a lot to be angry about in this world. I feel anger about many things. I'm angry that someone (whom I was involved with) recently told me that the creators of my new job are taking credit for my work, when I have seen these people work hard over the past year to create an amazing way for people with my skill set to have livelihood. That person assumed it is something to write off as just more exploitative capitalism, it seems, when I see it as an alternative to the capitalist model. Their dogma seemed to be that unless you have a co-op structure, a business cannot have integrity. I am sick of dogma all around: mainstream dogma and counter-cultural dogma. No matter what, when you have dogma, someone's needs don't matter.
That's what many of those conversations on all those news sites demonstrate, too.
That's how many of activists talk about the causes we care about, myself included. We turn the tables and say, OK, you people in power who have been denying others the ability to meet their needs--now it's your turn to not matter! We don't empathize with all parties (one exception to this, often, is the Quaker community, which I am grateful to be a part of). We activists had a conversion experience at some point, where we "awakened to the light" of racism or environmental degradation, or whatever it is, and we forget what it was like to be on the other side of that divide.
Take driving cars, for example. Most of my community accepts as fact that the ethical mode of transportation is bicycles, or public transit, or at least ridesharing. I remember a time, though, when cruising around in a car, blasting the radio and guessing which song would come on next, while going through a drive thru for soft tacos, was the height of excitement. I was very young when I experienced this--before nine years old I would frequently do this with my mom and aunt. I felt joy at this freedom a car could bring.
I wonder how many environmental activists were born into green families, and how many have had a similar experience to me. Who can remember a time when car driving was an innocent activity (as far as we knew)? Is this something we have ever taken the time to grieve?
I sometimes still feel that rush when I find an excuse to use a car (my roommates let me borrow theirs) and I am cruising around town. I get that high. I feel supercool. No, it isn't worth the extinction of polar bears or drowning of island nations--but wouldn't it be great if there was not a cost? If we could have both, wouldn't we want it all?
I'm not saying we should focus on tech solutions. I don't think that is the answer to our world's problems, at least not the main one.
What I'm saying is that, despite my usual hesitance to use the word "shaman" for reasons of cultural appropriation and misapplication of the term, there is one definition I often see for that word that I find applicable here: having one foot in both worlds. Can I keep one foot in that world of childhood in which cars were not the evil things they are now, but tools that could be used to access joy, and one foot in this one, where the planet is literally dying from the burning of fossil fuels, and I am willing to sacrifice--and grieve--that lost innocence, because it is necessary to care for life? Can I, by keeping one foot in each world, help others cross that emotional and perceptual boundary, help them re-orient?
Anger is part of grief. We have to roll with whatever emotions come up. There is a type of madness that wards off grief, but there is also authentic rage. Both are important; one for surviving until you have room to process, and the other one for moving on and moving forward.
I think, though, that activists get stuck in the anger portion of our grief, because we haven't created safe spaces to delve into the other feelings we have about our planet's tragedy. I have tried to create those spaces in my sphere of influence. I hope this can be one here. If you feel called to share stories of what you are grieving, please do so below. What innocence have you lost from before you were awakened to injustice? And how can remembering that help us to speak to those who aren't yet ready to give it up?
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