“Things are not getting worse; they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”
This quote, originally from a Facebook post by activist writer/blogger Adrienne Maree Brown, started showing up on social media in early July. As I begin the process of writing a final article for my series on the UpToUs Caravan, it comes to my mind, and it stirs my heart. It conveys a sentiment that I am feeling deeply these days: that of gravity, hope, human potential, and the work yet to be done.
It’s been two weeks since I arrived home from my cross-country trip, and three weeks since the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. With a little distance from the experience, I’ve started to piece together some insights and commentary, though I anticipate an inevitable feeling of inadequacy when it comes to delivering something comprehensive. We live in complex times—but then again, did we ever not?
Perhaps this is why the concept of “pulling back the veil” feels so relevant. More hard evidence of the tragically messed-up state of affairs in the US – not to mention the world – shows up daily. There are also countless interpretations of it, and countless ways in which people are trying to make it better. The 24-hour news cycle and our Facebook timelines make it hard to escape from the bombardment of information. This collection of articles too is just another angle of a reality with an infinite number of sides, though perhaps it is somewhat unusual in the way its human subjects are “holding each other tight.”
Looking back over my six-piece series, I see that I painted a pretty rosy picture of the people I traveled with and the mission, intention, and actions of the group as a whole. This is an accurate subjective reflection—the journey was possibly the most beautiful experience of my life, and I have deep admiration and respect for all the unique individuals I met. But there is also a need to examine it in the context of our larger reality. UpToUs calls itself a movement, but if it is to actually become one it has a long way to go. I have some critiques to offer and some historical comparisons to make. I hope to be of service to this potentially powerful cause, while also shedding an educational light on a segment of America’s youth population of whom Planet Waves readers may not be aware.
I have decided to divide my final article into 3 sections: first, a summary of my human experience; second, a political perspective; and third, a light astrological analysis, which will be published separately. Hopefully this framework will allow for something of a holistic discussion as we move from the personal to the political to the stars.
My week with the UpToUs crew concentrated an amount of deeply spiritual and emotional moments that might usually be experienced over the course of a year. Some are too personal to share here, and some are so profound I hesitate to put them into words. I will share one story from Philadelphia that may be a decent anecdote:
One day I went with a few others to a march advertised as “Black Resistance Against Police,” which turned out to have a very angry vibe—there were posters with “Fuck The Police” and flags displaying Satanism’s inverted pentagram. As we drove to our next destination, my friend Adam told us about a conversation he’d had with an African American police officer on the street before the march began.
Adam had been carrying his guitar, and the officer beckoned him over and started a conversation about music. They talked for a bit and the officer asked Adam to “play some blues for me someday.” Because, he said, when the march starts, “you’ll hear them calling us pigs, you’ll hear them saying ‘fuck you,’ you’ll see how how they treat us…”
Adam was of course touched by this interaction and the complex and heart-breaking scenario it made real. In the car, as he told the story, he started to cry, and then so did I and our other passenger Priscilla. For several moments we were almost silent as together we felt in our own hearts the pain, anger, confusion and grief—first of the officer, a man doing his job yet being disparaged by his own race and the people he was there to protect; then, of the protesters, and all the minorities who have suffered unthinkable injustice; and then, of humanity, for no man is an island, and ultimately this heartbreak belongs to us all. The emotion was palpable. It vibrated through all three of our bodies simultaneously, not just a concept but something we literally felt.
All human beings have the capacity to feel this deeply, but not everyone allows it to happen. It is easier to stay in the “head,” the world of arguments and intellect. Yet it is only on the other side of the pain that we find the courage and the drive to make changes, especially in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation.
The “head” has an important role, of course – that’s what the next section of this article is for – but the point I want to make here is about the side of ourselves I believe we will have to embrace and cultivate if we are to harness the resilience necessary for real change. While it has much to be developed structurally, UpToUs has a fundamental strong point in that it is composed of people who know how to feel deeply. When we fail to take ourselves out of the conceptual world, we risk complacency, frustration, and an inability to cooperate. When we expand into the realm of emotion (but remain self-aware), we feel our interconnectedness and we access a new level of strength unique to human beings.
There is something inherently “spiritual” about this capacity, for lack of a better word. It involves surrender and trust. It is a dive into the ocean of consciousness; a life lived only in the mental realm is like being on a glass-bottomed boat. It is only within the ocean that we can truly merge, unite, and tap collectively into the life force that is our singular chance at a happy ending.
However—the dive must be made with a scuba suit, and with the analytical “gear” developed on “land,” such as critical thinking and contextual knowledge. Divers should be excellent swimmers, part of an organized team with various roles, and they should be clear in the purpose of their efforts. And, they should be open and willing to share their findings with others once back on “land,” even those who might not have as much experience with diving. This leads me to the second topic of discussion—a wider societal perspective, and the need for healthy communication outside of one’s comfort zone.
Anyone who’s ever been in love knows what it’s like to hear the voice of the heart – and anyone who’s ever been in love also knows that logic and emotion have to work together in order for us to be functional in the world. UpToUs has much to be developed in the areas of communication and structure, although efforts are being made in that direction. If it is to become a widespread movement, it is in a very early stage. It seems important to examine it in the context of the wider progressive activism that is currently attempting to shape our society, since a lot of collaboration will be necessary for real change.
At this moment, communication outside of its immediate sphere of influence seems to be a weak point for UpToUs. I had an interaction with Shailene Woodley, the actress from the Divergent movie series and the public face of UpToUs, that epitomized this issue.
A reader named Greg left a comment on my first column questioning the concept of a celebrity without experience in political organizing taking the lead on an activist project. It was not a mean-spirited question but a legitimate one, and one to which I imagined Shailene would have a heartfelt response. I didn’t seek her out, but I was introduced to her by a mutual friend, and took the opportunity to ask for her thoughts. Her answer, I’m sorry to report, was pretty much the only negativity I felt during the entire trip—and honed me in towards an area where major improvement is needed.
Basically, Shailene refused to offer a response, telling me that she “doesn’t engage with trolls.” I looked her in the eye and attempted to explain that this was not baseless insult but an intelligent critique coming from a member of an interested, educated sector of society, but she couldn’t feel me. She said something like “I invite you to interpret my not responding in whatever way you want,” and then walked away. I was pretty shocked, mainly because the energy of her reply contrasted so strongly with the vibe of love and sister/brotherhood I had been feeling all week long. It took me a little while to make sense of the interaction.
I see now that it provides valuable insight into a tendency that will have to be altered if UpToUs wants to expand. There is a big difference between not “engaging with trolls,” and refusing to communicate with anyone whose viewpoint and life experience differs from yours. I believe that Shailene has a good heart and the same desperation for change as so many activists, both within UpToUs and outside of it. I also have deep respect for her and other well-known figures who feel the responsibility that comes with their place in the public eye and who are striving to use their influence with full integrity. But there is a comfort zone that needs to be breached, not only by Shailene as a public face and leader, but by everyone in the “tribe.”
I hope that anyone from UpToUs who reads this can appreciate my critique. The reality is that a wide variety of groups and people will need to collaborate in order to affect a true “revolution,” whatever form it may take. The bright spirit, the love, and the earthiness of this particular mission is something that has the potential to be a uniting force between many different activist groups with various specific goals—but that can never happen if we are unable to communicate with people who don’t completely “get” us.
Moreover, there may be a deep well of resources, knowledge, and support for groups like UpToUs in the demographic of the hippies who lived through the 1960s and lost hope; really, not even just hippies, but academics, artists, and anyone whose soul at least brushed with the spirit of revolution. If we can respect their experience and perspective, we also have a chance at re-igniting the flame in their hearts.
A few days after returning to Colorado, I attended a gathering of people I knew from my days as a Bernie Sanders volunteer. Most of them had been in Philly as delegates for Sanders at the convention. In a lot of ways, this group couldn’t have been more different then my travel companions of the week before—they were in their 40s or older, the women were wearing makeup, and there wasn’t a dreadlock in the house. They discussed their experiences inside the convention hall (mainly, censorship and condescension), whether or not they were leaving the Democratic Party (about a 50/50 split), and upcoming progressive initiatives and campaigns.
I felt a deep gratitude for their work, which I shared when it was my turn to talk. Most of them have been involved with the Dems for years and even decades. They know the nitty-gritty of local politics; they fill roles like “Precinct Committee Person” and “County Executive Chair.” They volunteer their time for jobs that most activists don’t even know exist—but it’s a good thing they’re there, because if they weren’t, the establishment’s hold on the system would be even stronger.
I was struck that day by the differences between the two groups and by the distinct need for communication and collaboration. How many of my hippie activist friends know the names of any down-ballot progressive candidates? Maybe a few, but probably not many. How much could some music, a campfire, maybe even a little weed perk up the spirits of the disillusioned delegates and help them regroup and renew for a continued impassioned fight? It definitely wouldn’t hurt.
Obviously I don’t mean this as a concrete action plan, but as an idea to explore. We all have something to offer and we all need some help. An ongoing flow of resources, ideas, and action between all the groups working to bend the arc of history in a positive way will be necessary if we are to exert enough strength to make a difference.
I’ll finish this series in the next few days with a look at some astrology, which is a way to contextualize UpToUs and all current activism further, and to give insight of a different kind into the energies shaping humanity today. We are in a crucial moment, and even the planetary influences that seem scary or disruptive have potential to work in favor of a new, more life-affirming reality—if enough of us are truly committed to creating the change.