“Don’t agonize, organize”
Florynce “Flo” Kennedy was known, among other things, for her biting wit, intelligence, and ability to incite and organize protest in the 1960s and 1970s civil rights and feminist movements. Among her famous quotes is the above, and this:
“I’m just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I’m crazy. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”
The story is that this is what she said after she organized a mass public pissing (erm, urination) at Harvard university in 1973, to protest the lack of female bathrooms.
died in 2000, but her words live on, and so should her methods. I kind of like her idea of “making noise” and “rattling your cage door”. This past year has battered a lot of people emotionally. In the grander scheme, it has been another year of war and political turbulence, where we’ve seen the relentless pummelling of parts of Syria and the most disheartening return to fear and loathing in politics with the U.S. presidential election. In Niagara, it has been another year of economic stagnation that presents challenges for individuals living on the edge and the organizations (such as the YWCA) that work on their behalf.
Many moons ago, when I was in university, I recall a political philosophy professor telling my class he wasn’t so sure about human “progress”. He was sure about scientific progress, and ever so grateful for advances in medical technology, but progress in human nature? That is what he wanted us to read on about, ponder, and determine for ourselves. It is, for me, a nagging doubt that surfaces in times of strife or crisis. Are we better humans than our ancestors? Despite our supposed sophistication, have we learned anything?
The hind-end of 2016 left a lot of people anxious about the future and fearing a resurgence of racist and sexist ideals from the past. In North America, Trump’s ascendency seemed to embolden a lot of haters. In the U.K. and Europe, far-right ideas seemed to drown-out good-will and love. A lot of people were and are demoralized. Have we really forgotten our history and the brutal, blood-soaked lessons of the past? Are we moving into a new age of dystopian futility where people believe hate is right and good? Is this our era of De-Enlightenment?
I hope not. I don’t want to go there. And I’ve got work to do (with others) to help ensure we don’t. Flo Kennedy advocated grand acts of rebellion, but just as importantly, small acts of resistance, to bring about change. She clearly had faith in human progress and believed in moving forward. As she said:
“the biggest sin is sitting on your ass.”