Engaging in the New Advocacy

After conducting a workshop at the Building Balance New School Social Justice Conference, I realize that there is a fork in the road. This is good news because I have been feeling overwhelmingly tired. Not sure where the tiredness comes from but I have an idea that social justice is crying like a child that has not gotten enough sleep. Put yourself down to rest and tomorrow, the day will greet you, meet you with new found energy, a treat – if you are lucky the sun will rise. I remember these words:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.”

My family has moved again, my office is in a new/old space. It is strangely close to where I grew up. Brown faces on the street, the Irish, the Jewish, the Italian, more brown from down town, up town seems over crowded, the language, the beat, the street is up the street, a Pizzeria, a home cooked meal Dominican meat, the backyard lined side by side where I can see a traditional clothes line, down the hill from the elite, I stay. We are away and back and I am sure that I am absolutely home and not home in a way.

“Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.”

Building Balance is linking social justice to spirituality. I breathe in that title, Building Balance, like it was written for me. My presentation was cut short, started late, few people attended and I remember the youth in me, the beginnings of organizing and my own and many first tries and my round table dialogue and sitting and waiting for young people to invite me into a space that perhaps I have grown out of long ago and wonder: What am I doing here? What is my purpose? Everyone around me wore jeans and t-shirt. I wore a navy blue suit and heals that scarred my feet (never again, by the way) and in both my suit and in my New School, I felt all at once the same and different and the only thing that I really needed to do was take off my shoes and let my feet breath. Then I would have allowed myself to fully embrace this exercise of patience. And patience is the foundation of spiritual awareness.

“And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

I felt that I might be leaving social justice not too long ago. But now it is clear that I am not leaving it, rather, it is leaving me. I am not sad to let it go because every thing that has come and gone, every thing, yes, everything is the same thing and I am just moving around the circle to the other side to take a different look. And what a relief! Let me say that social justice education is my birth into the work that I do and will continue to do and that when I refer to leaving, I by no means suggest that I am putting down my work, my fight. It means that I am expanding my view of advocacy. Let me explain.

Building Balance workshop at the New School participants wanted to talk about injustice to find compassion and empathy. I started talking about justice and fire was out. No fire. No sensationalism. Repeated the same exercise I’ve been doing for years and it was dying in front of me and it was the first time and when I looked at the screen at the bold and underlined words which I wrote that said: real teaching and learning can only take place when the question posed is of equal curiosity for the teacher as the students – I realized that I was reflecting for myself my own awakening. There was no fire because the fire had left me. And so, we started working on a mandala activity and I was tickled pink with the outcome. Just really, child-like me.

The purpose of the mandala was simply to start the process of linking our work to the spirit. In Aung San Suu Kyi’s essay “Freedom from Fear,” she writes: “The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation’s development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.”

According to Jung, the purpose of the Mandala is to put an end to human suffering, to attain enlightenment and to attain a correct view of reality. It is a means to discover divinity by the realization that it resides in oneself. Mandala= Sanskrit/ Indo-Aryan language (Buddhism/ Hinduism) meaning circle, essence, having containing, completion. A mandala is a physical representation of spiritual awareness and journey. What is this revolution of the spirit, we speak of and how can we integrate the work of the spirit into our work as activists for social change?

Agency is rooted in the sense of purpose and the capacity to make a difference in the world. Agency requires skill development in critical literacy. Spiritual awareness starts with self and emanates to others through a sense of interconnectedness. Awareness requires skill development in reflection, perspective & compassion. Social justice must bring together both; any significant movement comes from a combined sense of agency & spiritual awareness.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

I am suggesting a new advocacy. It is a call for agency & spiritual awareness. It is a commitment to engage in and provide an ongoing forum where we can bear witness, center our thoughts, consider movement, contemplate art, engage in dialogue, build a sacred space and visualize. In this time, I will work towards letting go of the anger and the scrutiny of the achievement gap. I will work towards letting go of our incessant obsession with seeing things in black and white (Another article in the Nation reads: Behind the Abortion Color Line: Reducing unintended pregnancies is an urgent priority for African Americans). I am working hard to let go of rich and poor, wrong and right, and for better or worst. Please forgive me for letting go of these things as you must know that all of these things, social justice things are so dear to me! I am going to try to let go of anything that is polarizing. I wonder what is in-between? I am going to try to sit in the circle and find a way to change me, once again. In this, I hope, my work will expand into a new advocacy. A new advocacy… What does that really mean? There is more to come.


One response to “Engaging in the New Advocacy”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I feel that being ordinary or average has become a kind of put down, yet that is where I fall and majority of others. I am not able to watch the news anymore, I read the paper or once in awhile turn on the BBC. My husband’s father always says, after the war, World War II people helped each other. If someone needed a meal, they could go up to a house and ask to do some odd jobs for a meal. Compassion in Action.


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