This week is my last on the job. There are so many of you I wish I could talk to in person before I go. You have laughed with me, cried with me, challenged me and inspired me. I will miss you though I have no doubt that I will carry a piece of the spirit of this organization with me for a long time to come.
Over the last few months as part of a discernment process to help me find my way forward after I leave, I have been asking myself: What am I passionate about? I can’t help but recall times in my life when I’ve taken risks that swept me to new destinations I never imagined at the outset. When I was 19, I dropped out of college (where I was a Peace & Conflict Studies major) to participate in a General Training Program with the Movement for a New Society (MNS) in Philadelphia. I had heard about the early organizing work of the Clamshell Alliance (to prevent the construction of the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, NH) and I wanted to be part of that work.
MNS worked closely with local communities to build coalitions and campaigns, and believed that how the work was done was as important as the outcomes. Whatever strategies and plans we created as a group needed to reflect our vision for what a new society would look like and we struggled hard to uproot many of the “isms” while valuing the contributions of every individual.
From Philadelphia I traveled to Boston to work with a collective that was offering trainings in nonviolent direct action for members of the Clamshell Alliance living in that city. I paid a friend $37.50/month to move into the sloping back porch of her apartment in Somerville located above a bar and below a billboard advertising cigarettes. I managed to find an early morning job as a baker in vegetarian restaurant run by Sikhs that left my afternoons and evenings free for my involvement in what we then called “movement building.” I also joined a group that was organizing a week-long Safe Energy Walk from Boston to Seabrook with the goal of sharing information about options for alternative forms of energy and to reach out to the communities that would be the most severely affected if a nuclear meltdown were to occur at Seabrook. I saved every penny I could from my job making bread and pastries and, when the time came, I quit my work to help lead the Walk. I still vividly remember a young mother I met at one of our early events during the week who decided to continue with us for the entire walk. I asked her to deliver a speech (for the first time in her life) at our final rally. Her words were very moving as she reflected on what she had learned about the dangers of nuclear waste disposal as well as the sense of empowerment she felt with so much encouragement to share her views and her gifts. I also recall the terrible sunburns at the end of the day (who used suntan lotion in those days?) and singing rounds while we walked, accompanied by others on kazoos. Though it was clear that many of the communities we visited were divided over the nuclear power debate, we did find unity regarding our hopes for promoting alternative energy sources such as solar, geothermal and wind. A few days later, I joined many others to “occupy” the proposed site for the Seabrook plant.
In spite of our protests, the plant was built at Seabrook. But many groups modeled actions on those efforts and not long after, the construction of nuclear power plants slowed to a near halt. Our experiments in direct action, consensus-building and inclusive decision-making continue to have an effect on the way many community groups organize today.
I was quite young when I joined MNS, with fewer obligations and at a time in this country when people were not as dependent on their employer for insurance to pay their doctor bills. I also hadn’t yet become a single mom responsible for three teenagers. Even so, it was still scary to take risks, just as it is for me now as I leave an organization I’ve served for nearly 19 years. So much is different (no more typewriters!) but for me, some things have stayed the same. I will continue to seek out groups that honor the individual, work constructively in the world and with each other, and encourage growth. I still believe that the change we long for can only come about when we do our best to live our shared vision for the future in the construction of our daily lives. How we relate to one another is at the core of our work. Though sometimes those same relationships bring anger or pain, they also offer an opportunity to practice compassion. A supportive community also happens to make the work more fun.
As I said at the start of this long epistle, I will miss you. I sincerely hope that all of you who make up this organization we love will continue to strive, as perhaps the most famous nonviolent activist said, to “be the change you want to see in the world.” As a fellow traveler, I can’t help but believe that I will cross paths with many of you again. For now, I want to thank you for being my community and my inspiration for so many years.
With love and light,