The two things I tried to do politically this week backfired on me, but provided good learning opportunities.
On Monday, I put a big lawn sign up in front of my house that said, “No War/No Empire/No Occupation.” On Thursday, it was gone. I could just picture the cowardly, so-called “patriot” that took it, robbing me not only of the money I paid for it, but my right to express myself. Then my housemate suggested that maybe the person wanted to use the sign, front or back, for their own purposes, or was just making malicious mischief. Hmmm…The more I thought about it, the more I felt that something hadn’t been right about my sign, and that the universe had taken it away to point that out to me. I finally got it, but not until after I made my second mistake, also on Thursday (yesterday).
Two friends came over for tea and conversation. We’d met in October 2008 when I organized an anti-bailout demonstration (more about demonstrations later), and they came to it. We’ve been getting together ever since to discuss the need for big changes in our country and the world and how to contribute to that. We’re all in agreement that capitalism is at the root of most of the “evils” we’re fighting, but A. and I have had to agree to disagree about Israel and Palestine (more about that later, too). A., whom C. and I hadn’t seen for months, brought up the first question about politics: “Have you been listening to the Republican candidates’ debates?” I said, “No,” adding that I wasn’t interested in what they had to say. “I’m not even interested in what the Democrats have to say,” I concluded. It soon came out that I wasn’t planning to vote for Obama, something that A. had lots of negative comments about. Long story short: I wasn’t listening to or respecting what she had to say, and she was responding in kind. Or vice versa. The point is that that kind of adversarial “discussion” is a) completely non-productive, and b) unfriendly, in my opinion. I ended up feeling very unhappy about the whole thing.
This morning I realized that my two efforts at expressing thoughts about politics had failed because they were both non-welcoming — non-inclusive — and confrontational. That isn’t effective communication. People aren’t going to be able to hear what you have to say unless they feel welcomed into a conversation in which their views are listened to and respected. More than that, I think they need to feel respected, cared about, and included as a person, which implies other kinds of conversation and activities. Bottom line: everything good comes from relationship. A better sign would have read, “War? Empire? Occupation? Let’s come up with something better.” But, for now, I’m going to dispense with signs, slogan T-shirts, and bumperstickers altogether, and just try to talk with people. Real change takes time.