Don't Judge a Book by the Cover

**This is a historic post written for the CPR rEvolution community on January 19, 2017 and posted to the Facebook Group. 

"I’d like to apologize for the delay in corresponding. I’ve been trying to write this for weeks, but unable to find words. The last couple of months have been an incredible time of reflection, pain, sadness and disappointment for me. I’ve reflected on the communities I’ve chosen to move in, my personal contribution to current social and communication dynamics and my unwillingness or inability to participate in them the same way moving forward. It impacted my ability to even post to this group and stopped me in my tracks for moving CPR forward for a short time. Let me explain.

Shortly after we began the group and had our first local meeting, I witnessed something that shook me at my foundation, to my core. I watched a group of people I once would have considered allies in social justice work, use the energy, passion and anger of some in our community for self-promotion and personal gain. I watched a fabricated story designed to anger and engage action find its way into an organizing space. I witnessed individuals attempt to provide background information and details about the issue that revealed a more complete picture of the situation at hand. I then watched those attempts met, not with a larger discussion, but instead the individuals were called out as racist or “Uncle Tom” (depending on whether the person speaking fact to fiction was white or a person of color). I then witnessed changing versions of the fabricated story surface to combat facts and perpetuate the problematic momentum. It was a display I thought I’d only see at a Trump rally and it was playing out among a group of “social justice activists” shouting down anyone that disagreed with them, calling them names to shame and silence them.

The personally devastating thing for me to watch was how easily this manipulation worked in this community. I’m now embarrassed by my assumptions of a specific level of integrity and critical thinking being inherent in social justice organizing. It was a disappointing revelation to realize it is not always the case. What troubled me more was how many people with good intentions contributed to a dynamic that further marginalized the community they sought to help. Not realizing they were ultimately undermining the community further.

I thought people who read the situation with apprehension would come forward and try to help open up a more comprehensive dialogue to temper the direction and problematic tone of the discussion and group. Those people never came. With one fell swoop by an architect of the original story, they entered the discussion called people racist for just suggesting a more comprehensive dialogue and effectively shut down the conversation. Two outcomes were visible from those called out as racist. Those seeking dialogue either jumped in line apologizing profusely or the others were shut down with a clear message there was no interest in having a complex discussion about the situation and were silenced. I learned a lot about assumed allies. The people I expected to step up and speak to the toxic dynamic I can only assume didn’t want to put themselves out there, didn’t know how to, or feel safe to speak up. It was a travesty. At every turn the organized effort sought to undermine every positive option that did not serve the original architects personal goals of this fight.

I learned in a new way, not only are we struggling with an emerging movement on the right they want to call, the “Alt-Right”, but we have an emerging “Alt-Left” too. We have a group of people who don’t need facts, information or any concern for moving with integrity in relationship to the populations they claim they are fighting for. They will blindly shout down anyone who has a differing perspective or opinion and burn bridges vs. building them.

The most troubling part of this lesson for me is not that we have individuals who’ve learned to leverage the structure and language of oppression and social justice activism to manipulate and control, but how easily a collective of engage activists let it happen. These architects have learned to prey on the guilt, fear, anger and pain of passionate people who want to affect positive change. The most disappointing part of this for me was to realize how quickly an action could go from fighting for an issue to lift a community up, to working to undermine it long term.

A recent example of the dynamic I describe would be the “Youtube Prankster” Adam Saleh. He is a Youtube entertainer who has made his name (and now a living) by pranking people and posting it to Youtube. Saleh just recently faced another set of assertions that he manipulated an environment (in order to film the outcome) on a flight he was to take in attempts to create a fabricated perception of Islamic hate on the flight. It was not the first time he’d been accused of engaging people to reach a specific level of reaction. In case you’d not heard of this situation, he posted a video stating he’d been kicked of the plane because he was of Arab descent. People became enraged, understandably, calling for boycotts of the airline.

Within days more information came to light about him and the event. Youtube entertainers are financially rewarded based on the number of views the video has. An assertion was made that Saleh began and continued to instigate disruption on the plane until he got the desired dramatic outcome for the video he sought to post online.

It’s despicable because we know already what people with certain embodiment's already face from incredible discrimination, suspicion and/or aggression when trying to fly. It is beyond offensive when self-serving individuals manufacture conditions to point to injustice, then claim it was organic hate they experienced. It undermines and damages the community being leveraged in the facade, individuals who have or will experience real instances of hate and ultimately can create a deeper level of fear and concern for safety among individuals in said community.

It was one of the grossest things I’ve witnessed, but thankfully it made me finally come to terms with my own limitations. It showed me where I have held huge quantities of naiveté or ego about “my side”. I’d always assumed because we were always talking about these issues on the left, that these kinds of abuses wouldn’t exist in the same way. It was an illusion that came crashing down around me, leaving me feeling like a 5 year old who’s shitty next door teen neighbor just told me Santa AND the Easter Bunny didn’t exist.

This was ultimately a gift. A painful gift, but one I will not soon forget. This came on the heels of conversations our group had about understanding issues thoroughly, approaching conversations to listen and engage, not just respond. It was like watching our “What not to do” conversations unfold before my eyes in real time.

Last year, or the last few years, I’ve watched the national discourse deteriorate. I saw how it’s toxic ripples ran through local discourse and even conversations within similarly oriented communities. I began seeing in a new way how dysfunctional and disconnected my/our communication with one another is.

It reflected my limitations and culpability of previously participating in and perpetuating those dynamics. I feel a tremendous amount of embarrassment to think how many times I heard and trusted a source and moved forward self-righteously promoting that agenda. I realized how much of my life I spent approaching the world from fear, anger, pain or judgement (and how that opened me up to being someone’s pawn). I realized how much that approach limited my ability to not only be effective in my advocacy, but it kept me from finding a place of compassion both for myself and others. I was again reminded that approach is as critical as substance when engaging.

This is an embarrassing acknowledgement of my humanity, but one I feel I must share to honor the relationship we are attempting to build not only here, but physically in our communities. It’s also a truth I must embrace to build the community I’ve had a vision of participating in, but at a loss for language to describe last 12 months.

At some point I realized I’ve spent a life in silos of differently framed communities. The last couple of years have highlighted how much that collective attitude has damaged our ability to even have basic conversations from a place of compassion, let alone live with compassion for one another. After seeing the last political cycle unveil itself, it became apparent that for the most part, much of America has been operating from those silos of identity. For instance, we’ve rooted our identities even beyond being American by party or framed as liberal or conservatives. Our conversations often start out with talking points that are handed to us by pundits or politicians, but never really discuss the real issues or facts. Too quickly it then devolves to who can speaking the loudest and/or last.

We have lost the ability to even see the human being on the other side of the equation. The current approach modeled seems to be search and destroy vs. embrace and build. How can we ever move in a productive direction, let alone begin finding ways to heal if we can’t find ways to create spaces of discussion and understanding?

I began to understand the breakdown during the primaries when so many in my life on the left couldn’t even have reasoned conversations about the virtues of Clinton or Sanders. I started to reflect on how we could even begin to change this dynamic. It seems nearly impossible when you consider these divisions have been created by governments and politicians from the beginning of time. They’ve told us who to hate, why to hate them and then enjoyed us fighting and distracted as they raid whatever treasure we hold dear (insert health care, regulated protections, financial regulations, reproductive rights, medicare, social security, etc here). And again and again we play into the dynamic, even when we think we are fighting against it.

I started to think, what would it look like if we could find a way to rise above the noise and remove us from the cycles of fear, hate and anger that seem to serve as a current foundation? What might it look like if we could create a sense of connection, a space or a moment, for people committed to self-reflection, greater understanding, greater connections? What if we could find ways to welcome people from across every silo who are similarly oriented in building bridges, not leveling them. What if we could create a space where the core and objective is to frame engagement from a framework of compassion and love; allowing a cycle of further understanding, healthy dialogues and create more energy for the issues needing to be addressed vs fighting each other.

I think religion was positioned to serve this role initially with the compassionate teachings of Jesus, Allah, Buddha, etc. However, history has taught us that some of the corruptible humans leading them have prioritized political power over focusing on the compassionate teachings. They opted to use their positions, platforms and movements for personal or organizational benefits while selling out the ability to help set a compassion based tone. It’s a dynamic we see even today with the likes of the Jerry Fallwells. We’ve watched some of the largest hate mongers clothed as religious leaders alter political directions and conversations while accelerating this toxic dynamic.

Here’s another thing that would be a barrier for me to look to religion only for this effort. Religious spaces that could best serve this kind of movement are still a silo framed in identity. Meaning if a church organizes, inherently only those members subscribing to that faith will really feel connected to the outreach. Where is that space that regardless of identity as Atheists, Agnostic, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, liberals, conservatives, ethnic background, orientation, gender, ability, immigration status, like minded individuals in a community can come together in celebration of those differences to break down the walls?

Our lack of compassion is amplified by these silos and becomes more destructive the deeper they are entrenched (and the more technology we add to the equation). It’s a sad thing to witness how often people are against basic rights or accesses until someone they know and care about is affected by the issue. Let’s use health care as an example. How is it we have individuals who can argue from a position of essentially, “I’m healthy, screw you.”? That is, of course, until they, their kid or best friend gets cancer and all of the sudden their position on access to health care changes. Why is it pain that gives birth to empathy vs beginning at empathy and asking the basic question of how can we proactively relieve the suffering we have some control over?

What if we could flip the script on the powers that be just by finding and connecting with others of various backgrounds and marginalized communities similarly committed to this form of engagement? What if we could strengthen, support, and inspire each other; facilitating individuals to feel stronger, less alone, powerful and connected to positive change through each other? What if this movement grew bringing down walls, building larger dialogues and understanding; all the while helping people find ways to rise above the anger, fear and division orchestrated and perpetuated to limit and impact massive cultural change?

I know we can find some of these elements and can engage through established organizations. However to a large degree, often times the scope of programing or focus is limited by the silo or framework it was built within. This could hold no boundaries or barriers outside of that personal commitment in engagement.

I share all of this because I’ve spent my life living and engaging from anger, fear and pain. I’ve approached the world (aggressively at times) from this framework and it regularly left me with more anger, fear and pain at the end of the day. And over time, the feeling of being a bit more hopeless.

I share this acknowledging my own selfishness by trying to create this. In part, I know it could have tremendous potential for individuals and communities. However personally, I know that creating community with people who get this on a deep level and embrace it, would serve as an incubator and reflection for my aspirations to live a better version of myself and my life.

When I finally depart from this planet, I need to know I did everything I could to raise people up (myself included) and not tear them down. And, I’m really HUMAN, so I know this could take a lot of practice and patience. I also know sometimes these changes are a lot easier to see and make through inspiration and connection. It’s an incredible gift when you surround yourself with people working/walking a similar path, people who inspire you beyond the current best version of yourself and push you in positive ways to see and embrace your highest potential.

In closing, I just want to say that this is not a political effort or social justice one, but a human one. It’s not designed to be focused on any one set of issues, but trying to help each other find ways to impact as many of them as possible. I know this will not resonate with everyone and hope those folks that don’t connect with this find the right fit their needs and efforts.

But if you feel at the end of each day it be nice to… Feel like you’ve welcomed more positive people, actions and energy into your life experience. Feel more hope. Feel less alone. Feel like you could make a tangible difference in the life of one or many and watching it unfold before your eyes. Feeling like your part of a community that could move mountains when called on to do so. Or just long for a space where you have a new sense of being connected… I look forward to partnering and growing our connection.

In solidarity and hope.