Activism as an Act of Love
Unless you’ve been living in a cave the past couple of months, we are witnessing a visible wave of activism in K-12 and higher education. Teachers protesting and striking for higher pay and better learning environments for their students in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Students of all ages are organizing and walking the streets of their hometowns and Washington, D.C. to bring awareness to gun violence and bring about change to gun laws. Black Lives Matter movement continues to fight against marginalization and violence against their communities. In addition, issues about citizenship with DACA students who are mostly in higher education and working professionals weigh heavily with educators who work with immigrant populations. It is inspiring to see educators and students demand for equitable and safer working and learning conditions for everyone in the learning community. It appears that teachers, students, parents and members of communities are just fed up with the status quo and the regression in policies.
The question for all educators becomes, “how much do I participate in activism?” There are several concerns for educators. For instance, some teachers don’t want to seem political or offend anyone, especially in their learning community, who doesn’t share their position. In addition, some educators believe that doing activist work may distract and even take away from their work with students. Some teacher who incorporate mindful practices in their personal and professional lives share those sentiments and some believe that it is not their role to become active in political and/or social justice movements due to their mindfulness practices of compassion, peaceful living, and being present.
Lately, I’ve been thinking deeply about the calls for justice and why mindful educators should become involved in such moments and the role mindful educators can take. As mindful educators we are leaders in our classrooms and school communities, and perhaps we should use our role and our privilege as leaders to support social justice movements. As mindful educators we believe in our mission to create safe, welcoming, compassionate environments for students to learn and explore about themselves and the world around them. However, with so much suffering in the communities our students live and learn in, it makes our position as educators more difficult each day as wages remain stagnant, more work and responsibilities are placed on educators, and fewer resources are provided for us to do our work appropriately. There is no need for such suffering in our communities, schools, and students’ and teachers’ lives.
I am reminded that the movements we are seeing today are no different from the movements from previous generations and from other parts of the world. King and Gandhi led nonviolent movements each poised to use love in the face of hate, and teaching so many the power of nonviolence. Cofounder of Community of Peace People and Nobel laureate, Betty Williams explained, “Nonviolence is the weapon of the strong, not the weak.” And we educators are stronger than ever even with the mountain of challenges we and our students’ face. We carry on our shoulders the burden of each child that walks through the classroom door. We know that our students face obstacles that far surpass their age and yet they continue to attend school. As a result, we not only teach them how to read, write, and do arithmetic, but we listen, we engage, we encounter each child with compassion.
Educators across the country are awakening to a new era of uncertainty, fear, and suffering. In times of crisis and change we each have a choice to how we respond to the crisis. We can choose to encounter such difficulties with more fear, anger, and frustration, or we can choose to harness these painful emotions and obstacles towards peacefully challenging those with political power and creating a path to change. Martin Luther King explained that this choice comes down to four questions we ask ourselves when facing the choice to be a part of a movement or not. He stated: “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.” We have come to a point in time in education when we must ask ourselves are we being led by our cowardice, expediency, vanity of by our conscience? The answer to this question is very personal and the actions we individually and collectively take may come with consequences. However, when we consider that the causes we are marching for, the cause that we stand with our children for, the causes that demand compassion for all humans are so much greater than one person, then the answer comes with ease.
As we each contemplate the challenges our communities, students, and colleagues face and the answers to such challenges we must remember that each mindful educator will take action in different ways. We must understand that each action is contributing towards a peaceful change. Some educators will be called to strike, others will march every weekend, while others will write emails and make phone calls to their legislators, governors, mayors, and city council members. Some mindful teachers may use culturally responsive pedagogy in their classroom to elevate the consciousness of their students to the challenges their community faces and to guide them on how to be active democratic citizens. Some may use their talent as creatives and use their art to support elevate the public's awareness. Some may incorporate more mindfulness practices in their classroom routines. Others may meditate more in their home practice. While others may do a combination of all that and even more. What may appear as inaction to some can lead to great impact for others. As Thich Nhat Hanh explained, “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone, will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.” No matter what form of action we choose to uplift our society we must respect our brothers and sisters who choose different paths of action and support them in their choices.
It may appear dreadful out in the world today, but do not despair and do not hate. Cesar Chavez wisely stated, “If we’re full of hatred, we can’t really do our work. Hatred saps all that strength and energy we need to plan.” As you do the important and difficult work of a mindful teacher in your classroom and use your leadership to support the movements in your community be sure that your work is done with love, compassion, wisdom, and justice in your heart and in your mind. We must maintain our faith in what we believe in as we continue to uplift and support our communities.
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Garcia, M. T. (2007). The Gospel of César Chávez: My Faith in Action. Lanham, MD: Sheed and Ward.
Hanh, T. N. (2005). Being Peace. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
King, M. L. (1968). A Proper Sense of Priorities [Transcript]. Retrieved from http://www.aavw.org/special_features/speeches_speech_king04.html
Resto-Montero, G. (2007, April 28). Laureate tells teens peace takes work. The Denver Post. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2007/04/28/laureate-tells-teens-peace-takes-work/