The short version:
If the seas ahead get rougher, the ship of community will assist our safe passage. Get connected today to overcome fear, create incremental change, experience support, persevere over the long term, and find hope. Don’t go it alone.
The longer version:
1. Overcome fear
I would never have stood in front of a crowd with a gay pride flag and sung by myself. Never.
Even in the early 90s, I wasn’t out to everyone. Coming out as gay was stressful and scary and made me feel vulnerable to hateful words, bias, or worse. Anytime a situation might turn hostile, I hid my identity and my relationship.
However, one day I learned about a new choir forming in my town. Confluence Chorus was advertised as a regional LGBTQ+ choir, and I was intrigued. I love singing. It started small–just 13 of us at first–but everyone who showed up to sing formed a strong bond. We laughed. We practiced. We planned. And then we put on a concert.
Was I nervous? Yes. But my fears were more about forgetting the words. Because all of us stood together in matching black attire, singing our hearts out, I felt unafraid to show up as myself. I was visible, proud, and in the company of those like me, singing about liberation and freedom to be ourselves.
As the choir grew, so did my confidence and the feeling we were part of something bigger. We marched in Portland’s Gay Pride Parade. We sang on stages around the state. We eventually participated in an international festival of GALA choruses.
At the time, none of us had the right to legally marry. All of us could be legally evicted or fired for being public about our identities. But together we were courageous. In showing up together, we were changing hearts and minds about our rights and inherent worth.
2. Create incremental change
Using one’s courage to speak (or sing) in community leads to change. One song didn’t do it. Many concerts didn’t either. In time, the collective effort of many GALA choruses and countless advocacy groups and forward-thinking law firms led to civil union laws and ultimately the right to marry. All of us working together over fifty years.
We’re not done yet achieving equality for my queer kin, but it is powerful to pause and recognize how our collective effort and courage got us this far.
When I asked the AoCC team to share their thoughts with you, Rachel P. said,
“I’m exhausted and right on the edge of deciding not to care because everything is so daunting. And when I get to this place I remember that it is exactly my privilege that allows me to ‘decide not to care’. But it’s not working well enough for everyone and so I breathe, remind myself that a lot of people have been working a lot longer and harder than I have and that the goal is change, not to make myself feel better. Feeling better would be nice, but making society better for everyone is the point. That only happens if all of us who care keep showing up for the long haul.”
Social change requires a sustained effort that only a group can achieve.
3. Experience support
If you are furious or exhausted like Rachel but fighting alone, find community. Susan L, one of our volunteers, shared her realization that privilege can “deprive us from the strength and joy of community.” One person alone will struggle and suffer with the seeming impossibility of success.
The good news is that you likely have already experienced the power of community and shared purpose. Maybe you got through a tough class with kind classmates. Or were part of a group supporting a friend after surgery or loss. Perhaps you helped pass a local law or elect a candidate. It doesn’t have to be huge, but observe how different these experiences are from fighting alone. This can work in social change too.
4. Persevere over the long-term
When you’re connected to community, you can persevere through almost anything. We only need to think of historical examples like women organizing together for the right to vote. The Black-led social justice movement. The Stonewall riots and gay rights. The Indigenous-led DAPL protests and water rights.
We hold up these movements as history’s models of change. What they had in common was (and is) community. Many people showed up together, taking turns taking risks to resist the systems that would oppress, and sticking it out together for the long haul.
If you’re like me, you have a strong response to recent events and disturbing trends. Some are furious. Some notice the urge to disengage completely. Others dream of moving abroad. These responses are both normal and a sign of disconnection from a community of support. Community can be the reason you stay and stay with it.
5. Shared effort is sustainable
The next few years will be crucial for democracy, the planet, and social justice. Please begin the process of getting connected to community today. If you’re already in community, consider whether you can commit more deeply.
The ongoing pandemic has made us rusty, but start finding people or groups who are as concerned as you and doing something about it. Especially seek out groups who’ve been working for change far longer than you, who have a plan forward, and generally refrain from alarmist rhetoric. If the seas ahead get rougher, the ship of community will assist our safe passage.
Because some of our neighbors are already struggling to attain equity, the continued assault on democratic norms and civil rights will force a greater burden of injustice on them. Many women are galled at having their right to reproductive justice taken away, but this is a common occurrence in the experiences of Indigenous people, for example.
To paraphrase Aboriginal elder and activist, Lilla Watson, your liberation is bound up with mine. Every win advances democracy, equality, or justice for all of us.
6. “Many hands make light work.”
It is a basic principle of liberation that we find our confidence not in our own individual accomplishments, but in joining those with complementary skills to work toward a common goal.
To find your community, I recommend getting involved with any of the organizations we credit in our Checklist (mentioned and linked with every action). Pick a group that is getting results over the long term and offer them your skills.
You don’t need to take over or lead, just be willing to show up in support of the work they’re already doing. Donate, volunteer, amplify, create art, or even show up in person if you can take the risk. Stay with it, and you will come to experience a calmness and confidence you didn’t think possible.
7. Find hope
This was my experience singing in Confluence Chorus as well as in creating our Checklist since 2016. One of our volunteers mentioned recently that they’re grateful to have this outlet for their concerns. Another said that it is only because she’s part of our effort that she doesn’t feel hopeless. I agree. Six years ago I was paralyzed with fear. Today, I am committed and unafraid and will keep going. These are the gifts working in community.
Get connected to community and the words of our team member, Amy L.:
“I feel anxious and worried due to the volatility we are all experiencing right now. This is usually a sign for me to do something that matters. But over the years, I realized this doesn’t always have to be one massive, gigantic action causing exhaustion. When I’m tired, I can do small things and focus on sustaining myself for the long haul, and this is just as important as big actions so I can keep going.
Let’s stick together. Let our work include laughter, planning, and practice. And may we find the courage to sing in concert with all those who are working toward the just, green, and kind future we believe in.
P.S. Would you consider joining the Americans of Conscience team? We are currently seeking:
- People who keep tabs on the news (you know who you are 🙂 to submit articles for our Checklist’s Good News section.
- Volunteers with skills in any the following areas: writing, research, graphic design, or social media (twitter, facebook, instagram).
To learn more about either of these opportunities, please send me a message. All AoCC volunteering is virtual, and our team uses a secure online space to connect and collaborate.
Thank you for the bottom of my heart for the wonderful work you are doing. You inspire me!
You’re so welcome, Jane. It’s a pleasure to be on this journey with you!
Very powerful piece, Jen. Very proud to be your mom.
You rock! Thanks for starting me on the path!
Many, many thanks, Jen–for all you do and all you are!
Your words mean so much, Joanne. The admiration is mutual!