As I approach this week the “Stand Up for Peace” rally that I have been helping to plan for months, I began to think about what drives people to attend rallies or to stay home. As someone who has not planned a rally before but who has participated in many over the decades, I started to wonder about all the folks I know who hold very similar beliefs about the state of our world but whom I have never seen at a rally for these same causes.
Of course, the basic reasons that come to mind include conflicts with work or other schedule commitments, fear of crowds, lack of confidence that the event will have any impact, etc. All are reasonable responses. But many of these same folks are retired, or in this case, our rally overlaps with the lunch hour. Fear of crowds, if one has never attended a rally, are based on an abstract fear. With the unusual exception of throngs of 500,000–1,000,000, as at the Women’s March of January 2017 in Washington, where I saw and felt that the density of people posed a potential for danger, I have never experienced any such concerns.
The question of effectiveness raises perhaps a more challenging reason from those who do not attend rallies. How does one measure effectiveness? Is the policy issue(s) raised by the rally addressed within days or weeks of the rally? Rarely if ever would be my best guess. Even if policy changes in six months or a year, can one say the rally made it happen? Certainly not by itself. So why bother with all the planning and hoopla if there is no immediate remedy provided by the rally action?
Herein lies my response and why I have thrown the bits of myself I could muster into organizing this rally for the International Day of Peace next Friday at the State Capitol. I’ll begin this response to concerns of effectiveness of rallies with a quote from perhaps our greatest living writer, Rebecca Solnit.
Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away a stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All of these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.
Yes, this rally and any rally organized to address an issue is a project of hope. We can’t possibly know the outcome in advance. Even as I fill out forms for the folks managing the access to the State Capitol steps that ask how many attendees, I really have no clue. Who will feel their schedule of commitments (work, family, meetings, doctor appointments, etc.) will allow it? Who is willing to possibly go alone to be with strangers to participate in something they have never experienced and therefore are wary of? Who will feel strongly enough about the issue(s) being addressed that they would put aside other things to spend an hour or two in support of the rally’s purpose? I obviously don’t know. I guessed – 250-500, I said. Wishful thinking?
Cheesh, wouldn’t you think that thousands would be willing to come out for a rally titled “Stand Up for Peace” celebrating the global International Day of Peace? Yes, part of me does. But there have been few rallies at the State Capitol I have attended in the past year that have passed that threshold, so I doubt it. Everyone wants peace, but few are willing to do the work necessary to build it.
So let me add two other considerations for you to think about next time there is a rally in your community that aims to address issues you agree with.
1) The larger the attendance the more coverage by media to the issue and proposals that emanate from it. The larger audience itself expands the message as they leave and talk to those in their circles about the issue(s) and options they heard. The idea gets seeded. This affirms the insight Milton Friedman offered to his conservative cohorts years ago.
"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.“
Milton Friedman. Capitalism and Freedom, p.2 (cited in Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Enough is Enough, 2013).
2) Those with enough hope, who pull together the resources to hold rallies and events to seed ideas or keep them alive, are fed by those who bother to attend and participate. This in fact becomes a huge energy transfer. This energy is needed to propel society forward. Your participation feeds the larger energy towards peace. In sharing one’s energy, one is also fed by the community and solidarity of strangers committed to creating a better world.
I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope… To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable. -
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Ask anyone who attended the Women’s March on Washington on January 2017 if they were moved by the energy. Get out and support peace, not only on the International Day of Peace, September 21. But every chance you get.It's the only way to get there.