Call to Action
I recently read the transcript of a talk by Paula Green given on December 7th in Northampton, Massachusetts: “Despair and Empowerment in Our Watershed Moment.” Paula is a peace activist, founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding and recipient of a 2009 “Unsung Hero of Compassion’ awarded from the Dalai Lama.
She spoke of the election exit polls that reported one in five people who voted for Trump didn’t believe he was qualified to be president. In reflecting on what causes people to act in such a desperate way she turned to the issues of respect and humiliation, saying: “The felt sense of being respected, or its opposite of being ignored or humiliated, has a much more powerful influence on people’s opinions than rational arguments…The pain of being humiliated and excluded is unsustainable. Sooner or later, shame seeks a scapegoat, someone to blame in a misguided attempt to reduce the pain. The excluded demand their place at the table.”
She goes on to say: “I watched this play out so viciously in the former Yugoslavia during my years of intensive engagement in that region. Milosevic, an opportunist demagogue, rose up by cleverly appealing to the grievances of one ethnic group in the region, promising them status, prosperity, and glory. Demonizing all the other ethnic and religious groups, especially the Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims, he slowly tightened the noose, inciting and baiting his followers to commit plunder, murder, and war crimes. The parallels are chilling, the lessons are clear.”
Trump certainly is “an opportunist demagogue.” He has been utterly consistent in his disregard for shared standards of truth and his relentless undercutting of reasoned discourse. He has come to power through fanning the flames of grievance in those who have felt unseen and disrespected. He dependably points the finger of blame on Muslims, Mexicans and people who ‘are not like us.’
How do we, as Paula Green says “enlarge our boundaries of inclusion?” How do we join with those who have felt so disrespected and left behind by our country? A friend who voted for Trump is also appalled by the racism and violence he incites and suggested we might form a ‘coalition of the reasonable’ to protect those who are vulnerable.
How do we go beyond being shocked and outraged and begin forming new coalitions and taking strategic action? This is not the time for playing nice and pretending everything will take care of itself. All of us who pay lip service to compassion, democratic principles and economic justice need to being behaving in new ways.
Ms. Green challenges us all saying: “Governments cannot last without the acquiescence of the governed. If we are determined not to acquiesce, give up, give in, normalize, or cooperate, and* we are equally determined to become more inclusive and to remain nonviolent, our revolution will triumph over obstacles that otherwise will threaten and divide us.”