Courage June 5, 2013

I expect by now you’ve heard the story: seen the pictures of the people bludgeoned by water cannons, the dog in a gas mask, the sufi dervish whirling in the street with deliberate disregard for the danger of his surroundings. It started simply enough. A group of people decided to sit in to protest a public park being razed in order to put in one more shopping mall. A group of people, young and old, decided that they had had enough of their country being sold off to the highest bidder, enough of the rights of the people being stripped away at the pleasure of the powers that be. And so they went to sit in the park. And there they sat as the bulldozers came at them, non-violent protesters in the long and distinguished lineage of Gandhi and King and Tiananmen Square and so many others. And in the long and shameful lineage of the British in India and Bull Connor and the Chinese government in 1989 and so many others, the Turkish government responded with water cannons and pepper spray, with police in riot gear prepared to do whatever it takes to subdue the population.

Who will not be subdued. Who continue to flock to the streets. I understand the courage of those first protesters, the ones who decided to sit down in a park and make their presence felt, who were willing to see what would happen when they demanded that someone take the needs of the people, and not just the corporations, into account. Sometimes you summon up what is inside of you and do the brave thing, walk the talk. But what about all those other people, the ones who joined the protest once they knew about the water cannons and the pepper spray, once the news spread (by word of mouth and social media, since the official media kept a complete blackout) of the injured and the dead? What about them? What does it take to knowingly walk into that kind of danger and chaos?

It takes, I think, an allegiance to a self that is greater than the self that feels the police batons and the pepper spray—a self that is injured not by physical indignities, but rather by moral ones. Call it Soul, if you will, this larger self, or call it Community Consciousness or Human Dignity or Living in the Kingdom of God. Whatever it is, it does not belong to a particular time, or place, or religion. It’s what led Gandhi, the Hindu, and King, the Christian, and the young man (Buddhist?) who faced down a bulldozer in Tiananmen Square to counter violence with persistent love. It’s what holds the Sufi dervish dancing in the streets of Istanbul and Bill McKibben getting arrested on the steps of the White House in protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. Who we are is bigger than who we are.

Not all of us. Not all the time. But enough of us, enough of the time, that it seems possible that love might have a chance against greed, that freedom and justice might sometimes prevail. Not all the time. But maybe enough.

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