What the movement moment is

And what denial looks like during a season of change.

A director at one of the organizations I support recently asked me what I thought “the movement moment” was.
What’s the spirit of this time? What’s rising up?

The movement, I said, is life.

The system demands we assimilate, and teaches us resistance is futile.
The movement is not about the right to assimilate.

The system calls us to worship the lone star. “Pull yourself up,” the system says. “Pull your pants up too.”
But the movement is not about rugged, respectable, individual survival.

The movement is far more expansive than the American Dream.
The movement is about justice.

It’s about quality of life in a diverse society.
Thriving as oneself in community.
The beauty of who you are. The richness of who we are.
Life beyond survival.

The movement is about race.
Poverty and wealth acquisition.
Freedom from violence and a criminal legal system.
Incarceration and voting access.

The movement is about housing.
Black lesbians with children in the South. Will not migrate. Shouldn’t have to.

The movement is about freedom.
Freedom of worship. Freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience in houses of worship.
It’s freedom from abuse. And it’s freedom to find love and belonging in a place called home.

The movement is about meaningful work and meaningful wages.
Gender expression, access to education, and professional mobility.
Food justice. Humane business.
Innovation. Climate action.

The movement is about the diversity of family.
The healing of faith. The focus of reason.
It’s fidelity to the human nation. Integrity. Hope.

The movement is about life dimensions beyond subsistence.
It’s opening to the full spectrum of life and full presence in life.
The movement is thriving. The movement is whole.

This is the movement and energy that inspires me, that I’m aligned with, and that I co-build with my clients and colleagues. This is the world that I want to live in: space for all people to be and create and progress and transform.

I’d like faith communities to be part of this movement, engaged as co-laborers and not as bystanders, and certainly not as obstacles that laborers have to work around. I’d especially like the faith community I grew up in to be part of the team I’m yoked with: can we really not just pull together?

Social change takes change.

What I hear some churches saying is: We want innovation as long as its exactly the same way we have always done it.
— Roger Hernandez (@leadSU) May 12, 2015

“Hope” and “change” and “movement” all easily lose their gloss with time. It’s not because leadership teams necessarily adopt reserved or centrist approaches to their work. It’s not even because movements hatching into institutions naturally become cautious. Ultimately, it’s because “hope” requires little disturbance in the Force, but “change” destabilizes everything. And more want change than want to change.

Who wants change? Who wants _to_ change? A classic resistance .gif via ChangeActivation.com

Every deep change in the last 10,000 years has inspired a counter-campaign of folks sure that the change they resisted would usher in the end of the world. The mass adoption of writing prompted philosophers to fret that children would lose intelligence, memory, and oral delivery skills. In Phaedrus (275), a Socratic dialogue, Plato has Socrates insist that writing is “an elixir not of memory, but of reminding”: it’s an inferior tool that encourages writers to ape wisdom rather than practice it through dialogue, discussing, and feedback.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, UK slaveholders warned the country that abolition would irreparably harm the nation’s standing in global trade. “Our West-Indian and African Trades,” slave-holders wrote in 1749, “are the most nationally beneficial of any we carry on… the extensive Employment of our other Shipping in, to and from America, the great Brood of Seamen consequent thereupon, and the daily bread of the most considerable of our British Manufactures [sic], are owing primarily to the Labour of Negroes.”

And in the US, critics of the suffragettes accused the women’s movement of wrecking homes and undermining marriage. Campaign posters framed lobbyists as too ugly to be married, or man-eaters who dominated their husbands, or the kind of mothers who would abandon their toddlers to wash, clean, and fend for themselves.

The doomsday prophecies are valid in a way: the old worlds did fall. But that’s the whole point. We don’t promote change for Colossus to stay on his pedestal. We promote change to bring him and Rhodes down. So much labeled “innovation” is just dusting the pedestal of the status quo. If an initiative is genuinely innovative, it will summon the World’s Last Chance crowd and all the hand-wringing that humanity can drum up. And if it doesn’t, we’re doing it wrong.

Deep change means the end of the known world — and for the segment of mankind not nurtured by the present order, the end of the known world is way overdue! If we’re wise about what my colleague Peterson Toscano calls The Great Transition, we’ll survive it ready to rebuild. If we’re foolish about the opportunities we have, we’ll stop short, crying about the good old days and writing them into our revisions.

Good Old Days: when men were gods, women were goods, POC were prey, and queer people were kindling. Excuse me if I’d rather not time travel.
— mackenzian (@mackenzian) May 12, 2015

The root of resistance is denial.

I may snark about this, but there’s a reasonable root under much fear around social change. Just this week, would-be presidential nominee Jeb Bush verbalized it when he told his base, “Thousands of years of culture and history is just being changed at warp speed.” Speaking specifically about civil marriage, Bush said he found it “hard to imagine” what society might look like when people’s civil standing no longer rests on their maintaining “traditional” lifestyles. Change changes things, and our imaginations don’t always keep pace.

It’s also true that the rational reluctance to change can express irrationally. If we’re no longer trading in superiority complexes, it’s irrational to trade humane inclusion for familiar exclusion, and it’s irrational to fret about the pace of change when the status quo harms. The impulse to encourage slow tweaks has showed up in every justice movement I can name. It’s incurred stony glares from change-makers for just as long.

Even from those as sanitized as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cecil John Rhodes, colonialist. Artist: Edward Linley Sambourne (1892) in Punch, a British satirical weekly magazine. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

To his White Christian and Jewish colleagues, King once wrote:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”

Some of us feel called to walk alongside people as they press through their discomfort. We can’t do that work effectively by encouraging people to live in denial about what yielding to that discomfort would mean for others. Earlier this year, I and my co-panelists at Creating Change reframed denial as a sign that someone has accurately judged how much is at stake. As such, denial’s a completely appropriate stage to start a journey in. It’s just no foundation for a life.

As change-makers, we know the stakes are high. And that’s why we press for substantive change in this world. We have no assurances that results will come in our lifetimes and we acknowledge there’s no inevitability in play. Yet we still work for good.

Topple the old order of things and help to build the new.

We know this world pets some lives and consumes others. We know it will do so as long as we permit it. And we’re saying enough: the end is nigh. Mourn the old parasitic order if you must: it will pass. It must pass.

Then, when you have mourned, help to topple Colossus.

Topple Colossus in your home.
Topple Colossus in your labor.
Topple Colossus in your faith community.
Topple Colossus in the town square.
Topple Colossus in city hall.
Topple Colossus in the chamber of commerce.
Topple Colossus in every sphere of life.

And from the rubble, build.

The first line in my Twitter bio is “for public good, social change.” It’s a simple, intentional phrase that represents my contributions to social justice, communal good, and the third sector — the voluntary, not-for-profit realm of action that’s neither primarily governmental nor primarily commercial. Even limited work in this sphere and small, consistent action in our interpersonal relationships can contribute to the emergence of a more whole and more just world.

If you’d like to add my professional energy to the work you’re doing in this area, please email me and let’s talk.

Originally published on mackenzian.com.
Keisha E. McKenzie is the director of McKenzie Consulting Group, and writes from Maryland.