This past weekend I attended a retreat held by my temple. I wasn't sure what to expect, not having been particularly religious growing up. But the theme was Aleinu ('It's On Us') and the goal was to help us identify ways we wanted to personally step outside of our comfort zones and commit to taking action for social justice.
After spending three dark and stormy years feeling assaulted by racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, anti-environmental, anti-humanist, and xenophobic attitudes and legislation, I felt ready to come out of my Covid cave and do more than donate money, buy funny shirts and occasionally march on Washington.
I had the honor of facilitating a Mispacha ('family') group. The point was to meet with this small group of peers and discuss why we came, and--as the weekend went on--discuss how the theme and content were resonating with us and inspiring us to take action.
But the first night, people weren't optimistic about what kind of results we were going to see.
They felt cynical.
They pointed out the great hypocritical turn the Baby Boomers took after they removed their bellbottoms and put on Brooks Brothers suits. "We did everything right," one woman moaned. "How could we have gone so wrong?"
They felt overwhelmed.
They talked about the sheer number of injustices in the world. "Where do you even start?"
The next day, a group called Bending the Arc talked to us about the three ways to enact social change: Topple existing organizations, personal transformation, and offering alternatives to existing organizations.
But what really gave me hope was a simple diagram they shared. Here's my rough interpretation.
The takeaway: oppressive systems topple when you weaken the systems that hold them up.
By flipping the power structure on its head, you can identify the different things propping it up.
That makes it easier to identify something that might be vulnerable, and give you ideas on how to create real change.
And don't stop with one tactic. Attack that weak link from multiple angles. That will give you the best chance at success.
For example, a former legislative aid shared, just getting an email isn't going to change the senator's mind. But if they're getting emails and phone calls and letters and texts, then they're going to take the citizen's voices seriously on that issue.
Remember: Personal transformation is important. Personal action is powerful. But if you can find allies, if you can join forces, that group action is what really creates movement.
At our last meeting, our Mispacha group was in a completely different headspace: energized, excited, and hopeful.
If you've been feeling at a loss, I hope these thoughts inspire you to feel like you, too, can make a difference. Any personal thing you do will cause a ripple.
Your challenge this week is to identify what is propping up a system of oppression that's been driving you crazy and dream of ways you can (alone or with others) creatively take action to create positive change.