We Have to Learn to Do the Work of Change

Jan Hillegas 2020

Originally published in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, September 10, 2020

A column I distributed a few weeks ago was deemed too long to print by most, so I'll be brief but more personal this time.

I attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, an important occasion for showing the world the massive demand for change from centuries of slavery and segregation in the United States.

Before that, in my first months of involvement in the South, I had been arrested in Jackson, MS for wanting a cup of coffee with friends on Capitol Street and in Atlanta, GA for helping block traffic in front of the restaurant owned by an ax-wielding racist.

Since then I've kept the sidewalk warm for today's protestors by carrying signs and writing songs against U.S. warmaking overseas, Israeli suppression of Palestinians, men's oppression of women, expensive and dangerous nuclear power, and many other issues. I devote time and energy against homelessness and irresponsible public officials, and for intergenerational Conversations and quality education.

And we still have similar warmaking military and interventionist "intelligence" establishments, passes and checkpoints and illegal settlements in the Middle East, resistance to an Equal Rights Amendment for U.S. women, widespread desolation of lands and seas for oil and gas extraction, racist policies and practices rivaling the worst of the Old South. Homelessness and poverty are still rampant, and policing too often is harassment, punishment and violence instead of public safety.

What didn't happen since 1963 is that "we" — all of us who want positive and systemic change — didn't do the work together that would make it possible.

Today, if we're serious about change, we have to learn to do the work of change. And enough of us have to be engaged to make a real and long-term difference this time.

That means learning how education, government, banking, monetary, science, technology, and other systems work now, and weighing what specific changes would produce the kind of society we want.

Marching and speaking out for change is necessary, but it's only the first step. Begging people who run oppressive systems to give up their power is not going to do it.

We have to be sure that teachers learn and teach the whole truth about our histories. We have to learn to factor out not just numbers but rules, processes, laws and systems and to immerse ourselves in their details so we understand their impacts and can determine how they should be changed. We have to invest the time.

We have to form teams to address issues of interest to us, do the research, have the discussions, and work with other teams to produce the information and formulate action plans to move our nation and world toward safety and prosperity for all — for people, planet and peace over profit.

We have to ask questions such as, "If you don't want Medicare For All, then who do you think should get quality healthcare and who are you willing to let die for lack of it?" We have to factor out the whole situation. What do we have to learn and do to achieve maximum wellness for everybody?

And we have to foster people with the right skills to become our legislators, judges, executives and other officeholders in a government that values and supports every single one of us — a government that becomes the way we do together what we can't do one by one.

In summary, we have to activate the Golden Rule, individually and as a nation, so we treat other people like we want to be treated.

We've avoided this hard work for too long. Perhaps in your lifetimes you can do better.

[Jan Hillegas lives in Jackson, MS, and works toward establishing a resource center for the movements we need today. Ask your questions and become a colleague at Conversationsms@hotmail.com.]

Copyright © Jan Hillegas, 2020


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