How A Poem Changed My Life

A poem that has strongly influenced my life is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

Frost’s words inspired me early on to be a non-conformist, pursue the arts, be an innovator, become a writer, seek kindness, consider things deeply, embrace ‘feminist’ ideals, choose vegetarianism, and whether with politics, religion, photography, or composing a song, to consider a new way, a less obvious path to take, or maybe even blaze a trail where one hasn’t existed before.

As 2017 begins, we’re faced with some daunting challenges. For those of us who care about about public education, the arts, social services, civil rights, the environment, public parks, consumer protection, equal rights, civil liberties, diplomacy, freedom of speech, due process, net neutrality, healthcare services, being good global citizens, and many other similar social issues there is a lot to be concerned about in the coming year. These are not solely partisan concerns. There are leaders I like and support in different parties and factions who are concerned about what’s going on in our country right now.

The Women’s March of January 21 this year was a much needed global event that helped create solidarity at a time when many felt they’d been knocked down, divided, and scattered. The march was large enough to demonstrate that regular citizens can collectively be like another branch of government that has a kind of ‘veto power’ and the ability to advance causes that matter. It was a first of its kind event that will long be talked about and reflected upon. The sheer number of people and media coverage generated, with the promise of even greater numbers in the future, helps to put the government in check. Such a presence is an essential part of democracy.

There has been quite a bit of discussion about what to do moving forward. Where do we go from here?

Choosing the Right Action Plan

In choosing the right action plan, there are a variety of choices to select from:

  1. Should we primarily emphasize protests and efforts to block the administration’s agenda?
  2. Are marches a better declaration of what we believe in, with less focus on what we’re against and more focus on solutions?
  3. Could protests be respectfully defiant or at this point will very vocal and angry protests be the only thing that will get heard and bring about change? With authoritarian leaders, it’s believed that negotiation isn’t really possible. It’s simply used as a ploy to placate the masses and legitimize or normalize one’s rule. Although, some say we should we take the higher road in the belief that it will ultimately result in the best outcome – as was called for in the recent election with the phrase “When they go low, we go high.” What should the tone of our message be?
  4. Are there any common ground issues we could agree on with the current administration? Should we, as some have suggested, work with the administration on those issues while still being critical of those things we disagree with?
  5. Should we put much less emphasis on protests and instead focus primarily on pressuring the administration to advance the causes we care about?
  6. Does any willingness to work with the current administration simply legitimize, normalize, and strengthen it? Is that like fighting a wild animal, but feeding it at the same time?
  7. Should we think along partisan lines? Should progressives leave the Democratic Party and shift to supporting the Green Party? Should progressives try to have greater influence in the Democratic Party? They almost had success in 2016 with Bernie Sanders. Or, should we form a bigger movement that’s non-partisan?
  8. Should we join those ‘on the right’ to help them recover their party for the values they believe in? There are people in every party who are honest and competent who genuinely want to do what they believe is good for society. Should we align with them, or should we shun them according to party affiliation?
  9. Should our actions be peaceful or do the present conditions demand that people engage in direct actions that may result in people being arrested? These include activities such as blocking highways, shut down essential infrastructure, trespassing, vandalism, hacking, threatening others, throwing objects at people, slashing tires on police cars, or sensational actions that will help gain more media attention. Helping to spread false, misleading, excessively vulgar, mean spirited, or derogatory information could fall into this category. For more on this, refer to “Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything.”
    [Personal Note: I believe such activities are dangerous, harmful, indiscriminate, sloppy, risk a serious breakdown of civil society, and they are counterproductive.]

The Paths I Choose

We’re often presented in life with what seem to be binary choices, or multiple choice questions. When I’m presented with such choices, the answer I choose is often not on the list.

I think the best way to choose what path is best this year is for each person to seek what feels right to them. When we’re speaking and living from a place of centeredness and groundedness we are authentic, we are strongest, we are most assured, we are more experienced, we are quick, and we are smart. I think that’s the best place for us to be as individuals. At least it’s where I try to be.

So, the answer to the multiple choice question above is that there is no one answer for everyone. There may not even be just one answer for any particular individual.

A significant number of people are gravitating toward the resistance agenda and the 100 Days of Resistance movement. The thinking with this group is that it’s important not to let a potentially authoritarian government become established, so any cooperation even on common issues is considered a long-term mistake. I have some concerns about the resistance agenda, but I understand that viewpoint and see some merit to it.

There is a small group of people who are looking for ways to find common ground with the current administration. There’s much concern about this approach as was mentioned above. Dennis Kucinich is among this group. Learn more by reading Dennis Kucinich: “The Trump Inaugural Address – A Progressive Review.” In addition to Kucinich, on January 12, Bernie Sanders spoke before the U.S. Senate about concerns with big pharmaceutical companies engaged in exploiting the sick, poor, and children with the high cost of drugs. In that talk, he proclaimed that he agree with the President on this issue. Again on January 23, Sanders said he would work with Trump on trade. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse wrote an open letter to the President which was critical, but extended an offer of cooperation toward common goals.

As for me, as stated above, I’m very opposed to what’s offered by item #9 in the list. I listed it above because those suggestions are being put forth by some people. I’ve written at length against such actions. I believe the Women’s March and similar peaceful demonstrations can be effective and provide an important show of strength and unity when needed. I cautiously support what Kucinich and Sanders are trying to do. I say cautiously because it could ultimately result in a net loss, and then an additional 4 years where no negotiations or compromises are offered. Even so, bringing common ground issues to the forefront helps raise public awareness and builds support for these initiatives. The waters just need to be navigated very clearly.

So, here’s my list of paths I plan to take in 2017:

  1. March. I’ll march for and speak up about what I believe in. I’ll join with the masses when the government needs to be placed in check. I see marches as a separate category from protests. Protests tend to focus on the people or issues we’re displeased with, which simply gives them more attention and energy. Marches are more likely to bring people together under common goals and values. Marches can offers solutions and inspire discussion.
  2. Protest. I’ll join protests when they are peaceful demonstrations against injustice and specific issues I believe in. For me the tone really matters. If it’s just an angry group of sectarian partisan people shouting, I’m probably not going to be enthusiastic about that. I don’t like disrespect directed indiscriminately at all police officers or all people serving in the armed forces – or people of any profession for that matter. I can protest specific actions, specific wars, specific war crimes, specific institutional racism, systematic injustice, but won’t just lump all people together in one group based on the acts of a few. I think that’s the mindset of bigotry. I explain this because not all protests are the same and some I just can’t agree with. Sometimes I agree with a group’s positions on issues, but strongly disagree with their methods, and the methods become a deal breaker for me. I often prefer writing as a form of protest when I don’t feel fully aligned with the views or methods of a larger group.
  3. Praise. I know this isn’t for everyone, but I’m able to see good in the midst of the tornado we’re in. I’m going to continue looking for ways that people can work together. I’ll try to create culture shift toward what I believe is good. When people I disagree with do ‘good things’ I’ll point it out. I’m going to look for common ground issues that bring people together to produce good outcomes.
  4. Work and Live. I’m going to keep doing what I enjoy doing: bike riding, nature hikes, writing, photography, reading, learning, and doing my consulting work. I’m going to continue pursuing a balanced and full life.
  5. Encourage and Uplift Others. I have friends from all walks of life. Whoever people are, whatever community they were born in or have chosen, I’ll try to be supportive, listen, and affirm the good in every person. To those trying to improve their own ‘community’ I’ll try to be supportive.

So, that’s what I’m going to be engaged in over the coming year. I’ve written a more detailed 11-Point Action Plan for Progressives that really applies to any person or group wanting to bring about positive change, but the list above is my personal focus.

I really appreciate the support I get from so many people whether family, friends (new and old), my customers, and others. If you have ideas for me, correction or praise, I welcome it all.

Despite what seems like a tumultuous year ahead, I think the crisis is a catalyst for positive change, learning, growth, and ultimately positive outcomes. I hope we can all enjoy those positive outcomes together.