I woke up today with a divided and heavy heart.
One side of my heart is filled with wonder, awe, and magic.
I wake up between 2:30am and 4am to feed my two week-old son, Francisco, a bottle of leche, lots of which has been donated by kind, generous friends, family, and PICO colleagues who have scavenged store shelves in search of baby formula. I look at Francisco, and I glimpse into the future, and I pray that he will inherit a world that will love him back. A world where we have evolved from a small, selfish, fearful version of our human condition into a more enlightened, more equitable and compassionate version. Where we value human life and our common home above all else. Where we strive for success as a society based upon the well-being and uplifting of the poorest, most excluded members of our communities.
The other side of my heart is filled with sadness, with overwhelm, with indignation and rage.
My heart breaks for the children and educators whose innocent blood was shed in Uvalde, Texas yesterday; for the Black and AAPI adults whose lives were ended in Buffalo and Orange County for no other reason than being members of a race devalued and marginalized through the structures and stories in American society. My heart is pained by the memory of the murder of our brother George Floyd, who two years ago today cried out for his mother while being suffocated by an agent of a policing system whose origins were designed to catch slaves.
My mother Olga told me on the phone today, “Mijo, once you have your own children, you begin to ask yourself, ‘What if that was my child?’”
My heart feels sorrow even for the sick, deranged, demented people who were enabled to act on their hysteria by the ready availability of guns in our country; who have been poisoned and brainwashed by ideologies rooted in demonic beliefs about a hierarchy of human value; and whose mental and spiritual illnesses were undoubtedly made more acute by an unregulated, profit-driven social media industrial complex that is enabling the organizing and broadcasting of vicious belief systems, and accelerating our segregation from one another.
The author and unjustly convicted former death row inmate Anthony Ray Hinton writes in The Sun Does Shine:
“I was born with the same gift from God we are all born with—the impulse to reach out and lessen the suffering of another human being.”
Something horrendous has happened to people who have lost this gift.
I find myself today asking myself a question I don’t enjoy asking:
“What if this organizing business is not enough?”
I don’t want to waste my time building up non-profits that claim to be making an impact while innocent blood continues to be shed all around me; where people are forced to live in a state of economic misery. I want for the non-profits we house our work inside to be means to much bigger ends.
I urgently and desperately desire an effective, transformative organization/network/movement that acts with intense and urgent moral energy; with impactful strategies that ultimately deliver what all of our hearts long for: Peace. Justice. Equity. Opportunity for all.
I cannot allow myself to stay for long in this cul-de-sac of hopelessness. There is so much to do.
In my prayer today, two thoughts have helped me emerge from the cave of sadness half of my heart finds itself in:
1. What we need less of are words. What we need more of is action. Action that is fueled by a persistent moral energy driven to confront powers and principalities that serve money and not people, with a greater power and spirit of revolutionary love.
2. Pope Francis’s words of encouragement in Bolivia in 2015 to 2,000 poor and indigenous grassroots organizers from across Latin America who are part of the World Meeting of Popular Movements:
“Looking at the daily news we think that there is nothing to be done, except to take care of ourselves and the little circle of our family and friends.
What can I do, as a collector of paper, old clothes or used metal, a recycler, about all these problems if I barely make enough money to put food on the table? What can I do as a craftsman, a street vendor, a trucker, a downtrodden worker, if I don’t even enjoy workers’ rights? What can I do, a farmwife, a native woman, a fisher who can hardly fight the domination of the big corporations? What can I do from my little home, my shanty, my hamlet, my settlement, when I daily meet with discrimination and marginalization? What can be done by those students, those young people, those activists, those missionaries who come to my neighborhood with their hearts full of hopes and dreams, but without any real solution for my problems?
A lot! They can do a lot. You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!”
I will try to learn how to walk through the pain of our days, drawing strength from my siblings who share a longing for change, finding heart in the promise and practice of what we call “organizing.” And I am determined to find new ways of building more power together that delivers the kind of change our children and grandchildren, Francisco included, urgently need.
In sorrow, hope, frustration, and solidarity,
Joseph Tomás Mckellar
Executive Director, PICO California