"Let your love be the strength of your resistance."
I have friends who are conflicted by the times in which we are living. These are peaceful, even spiritual people who are dismayed at the policies being advanced at the state and federal level, but who also strive to see the good in everyone; even those who are lying to the public and pushing a divisive agenda. These friends are trying to “love” their way through. They are praying for guidance on how to remain true to their values and how to love their “enemies” even though they refuse to use the term enemy. They feel their values are challenging them to show love for politicians whose actions are anathema to their own sense of justice.
I struggled with this same conundrum early in my organizing career. When I worked in Providence Rhode Island, I came up against a famously corrupt mayor named “Buddy” Cianci. I had a small block club on Bogman street and all they wanted was to get their garbage picked up regularly and the rat problem to be abated. I knew there was a rat problem the first day I rode my bike down Bogman street because there was a squished rat in the middle of the road.
The garbage wasn’t getting picked up and after a series of unsuccessful meetings with uncooperative bureaucrats, the block club leaders decided to take bags of garbage to the mayor’s office. When we arrived, the mayor was ready. The block club was led by an earnest fellow named Reverend Jolly who worked in a factory to make a living but who served as a pastor of a tiny congregation on nights and weekends. We were ushered into the mayor’s office and before we were even seated the mayor began yelling, “Who is Reverend Jolly?” The Reverend raised his hand and immediately Cianci strode over to him and began punching Jolly’s chest with his index finger yelling, “Reverend. Reverend. You’re no f***ing reverend. You work in a f***ing FACTORY.” I started to speak up to defend my block club leader and then Cianci turned on me. “Who the f*** are you?” he bellowed. When I told him I was the organizer for the block club, he blew up. “You’re f***ing nobody. Get the f*** out of here.” He turned to his security and told them “get him the f*** out of here.” At that point, Reverend Jolly spoke up and said “I want him to stay.” Which somehow cut the tension and the mayor calmed down. I guess he figured he made his point. He was in charge.
After leaving the mayor’s office I was livid. I couldn’t believe the mayor had done a background check on Rev. Jolly and was trying to humiliate him. I was in my mid-twenties. This was my first paid organizing job and I was on fire with a sense of justice. I wanted to “do something” to get back at Cianci. I was trying to rally the reverend to go to the press and complain about how he was treated. But that day, Rev. Jolly taught me a lesson that has stayed with me. He said to me, “Mike, I don’t see it that way. I see Cianci as a man in pain. I’m not interested in going after him. I’m interested in helping my family and my neighbors get our garbage picked up. I’m focused on the ‘love thy neighbor’ part of the bible, not on the ‘eye for an eye’ part.”
Rev. Jolly wasn’t organizing his fellow residents out of anger at Cianci, he was organizing out of a sense of love for his family and his neighbors. And because of his strong capacity to love, he was not about to back down or be intimidated by the mayor’s theatrics.
That’s the lesson I’d like to impart to my friends who don't know how to respond to today's politics in a way consistent with their values. Focus on the love of neighbor and not on the anger at the politicians.
Focus on your love for the 24 million people who will be without health care if the Republican health care plan is adopted.
Focus on your love for the elderly adults who will go hungry without meals on wheels to support them.
Focus on your love for city teens who will be turned away from the afterschool programs and released to fend for themselves on the streets.
Focus on your love for the countless unemployed who want to work but will be turned away from job training programs.
Focus on your love, not on your anger. Let your love be the strength of your resistance.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.