Monday, February 20, 2012

The patience and persistence of activism

Every now and again, as in the birth control debate still smoldering, glaring examples of inequality come before us. The sight of a male-only religious panel arguing against contraception before Congress is one of these. Without the addition of even a single female voice, the spectacle makes it clear that we are still living in a man’s world. With such damning evidence, even men can no longer deny the fact. It should not take something so blatant to reveal an otherwise long standing truth. We often arrange our priorities wrongly.

Many issues pertaining to women are segregated, compartmentalized, and assumed to only be of importance to exactly one sex. When news stories break that are much more visually subtle (and they often are), these topics are usually discussed in a relatively small circle of discourse. Books about Feminism, women’s rights, and the like find themselves relegated to a tiny corner of a bookstore. Unless you knew precisely where you were looking, it might be entirely possible to walk right by. This ghettoizing effect has long been present, to the complete consternation of those who would bring these discussions to a much larger audience.

Those who tirelessly push the discourse upon what often seems like an apathetic world have my respect and my sympathy. I myself seek to enlighten others along the same lines. Because I am a man, I sometimes have the ability to affect the attitudes and perception of other men. If I am successful, others keep what I’ve said in mind, at least for the short term. But once they’ve gone to work, watched television, or slipped back into traditionally male assumptions and patterns of belief, my hard work is blunted. It’s now time for me to try again.

My Great-Grandfather was a minister. He was once asked why he consistently preached sermons that referenced the same several passages of Scripture. His response was that, in his mind, people needed a constant reminder of the lessons contained within them. He conceded that it was easy for everyone, with time, to arrange their priorities incorrectly. Religion, for him, was an essential corrective to get people back on the right track. He expected that people would routinely stray, and he structured his sermons accordingly.

Persistence may be our strongest ally. We expect much of other people, just as we expect much of ourselves. When we cannot make the immediate, measurable impact we desire, we become frustrated. I don’t believe that our sights should be set lower, but rather that we understand a core truism. The process of reform and progress is unceasing. What we accomplish today may only be truly visible with the passage of time.

Establishing equality must continue, but we may need to begin with the understanding that humans can and will sometimes disappoint us. Believers will backslide. Politicians will pander for the sake of their office. People will quickly forget the lessons they once claimed to revere. Hypocrisy will take the place of sincerity. The same crowds singing Hallelujah on Sunday will yell for crucifixion on Friday.

We may need to periodically modify our plans and goals. None of that which stands before us should discourage from our greater goal. Embrace the challenge.

The Civil Rights era folk song “Eyes on the Prize” was originally a hymn named “Gospel Plow”. The title of the latter is adapted from the Gospel of Luke. The specific verse reads—“But Jesus told him, anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God."

Its lyrics were later adapted by activist Alice Wine in 1956. Two stanzas summarize the devotion, passion, and drive that must be the mainstays of all who would further the state of humanity.

Now only thing I did was wrong
Stayin' in the wilderness too long
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The only thing we did was right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

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