By Marcus Lorenzo Penn
Our Peaceful World Foundation 2018 calendar of events came to a wonderful close on December 6, 2018 as we hosted our final Breakfast Conversation of the year. Naturally, at the end of the year many of us are reflective of what took place in our lives in the months before. Hence our Breakfast Conversation topic was on “Reflections”. More specifically our attendees were given the charge to identify current issues to reflect upon related to social justice and activism within many of our respective organization’s programs.
We had our largest attendance yet for our Breakfast Conversation with many representatives from Pachamama Alliance, Art Seed, The California Consortium for Urban Indian Health, No Bully and RSF Social Finances. We kicked things off with an icebreaker asking everyone, “When you look out your home window, how can you tell the season is changing?” Our first two responses from folks made note of San Francisco’s oftentimes ambiguous seasons that are difficult to identify visually. Other than that, they spoke to receiving many invitations via family and social media for events that would fill up their end of the year work and personal calendars.
One of our guests was interning from Denmark and he very much appreciated the Bay Area changing ‘seasons’ by taking walks in the Presidio and seeing nature more taking in the freshness of air and cool moisture. His biggest observation was that our trees still had leaves on them during this time of year. Approaching winter here was much more ‘gentle’ than in Denmark, as he put it. He noted that he will ‘return to darkness’ when he goes back to Denmark in two weeks, to which I responded, “Always remember the (inner) light!”
My contribution to the conversation revolved around becoming more aware of a greater feeling tone of wanting to bring people together during this seasonal change. More of a ‘cozy’ feeling comes over me during the last month of the year as I recognize the special people in my life who I keep close. Smelling hints of burning firewood in the air (much different than the over-abundance of smoke the Bay Area experienced recently) with visuals of family surrounding a warm fireplace also let me know winter is here. Another attendee became more introspective during the Fall to Winter seasons, seeing their harvest of labors from the year. He saw this as a time to check-in and reflect on ‘who I am and who I want to be’ yet still ‘come back to myself’. He also recognized how important it was to be around positive people and connect with community, family and work family.
An attendee representing environmental justice confided in us all that for much of his earlier life he hadn’t felt connected to the environment. However, he noted that the season of his life has changed recently as he is now more open to nature and it’s wonders. Largely responsible for this shift, as he shared, was having 2 and 4 year old children who help slow the world down for him by observing life like ‘little scientists’ how ‘the spiders and birds went away’ for the season.
One of the more heartfelt reflections of the change of the season was noted by our own PWF Program Director, Heidi Majano, who felt the change when the rains came after the recent fires in Northern and Southern California. Prior to the rains she sensed there was much fear in the minds and hearts of those around her. Now that the rains have ‘cleared the air’ of that fear, people began to embrace the holiday spirit. “It’s time to bring in the holiday” she described “with lights…the Christmas lights are bringing in the cheer for a more peaceful world.”
Other perspectives on observing the changes of the season were seeing the change of pace of work’s end of the year fast pace contrasting the slow pace of the Winter Holiday. Someone noted a different energy in the air where they personally felt different and could more keenly see life’s rhythms. Another described the earlier shift of light to darkness of the day and how as the season changes, the body changes too. The commercial industry is very much involved in what we see reflecting the new season, one attendee noted, with shopping ads, radio holiday songs, and kids writing Santa lists.
After the icebreakers, our group was ready for the main Breakfast Conversation question:
“What are the current issues we wish to reflect upon related to social justice and activism within our organization’s programs?”
Our first response came from a gentleman who described how his organization utilizes animal fables to teach lessons about social justice as it relates to various constitutional amendments, like the 13th which abolished slavery, unless you are imprisoned. This approach was acknowledged by many in our group as being an effective tool to communicate indigenous cultural and educational values.
When participants were asked what activism looked like in our present day and times, the responses were eye-opening. One participant drew an important correlation between the evolutionary stages of activism, noting that activism used to be based on one’s reaction to injustice and now it has a more ‘pre-emptive’ approach towards promoting justice. This ‘pro-activism,’ as coined by another participant, has now found its way into the classroom as a way of educating youth about restorative justice through innovative approaches, i.e. moving away from punitive practices towards thinking ahead of actions and their impact on others. Thus, not contributing to the school prison pipeline.
Our participant from Denmark brought a spiritual perspective to activism. It was brought to light how the aim of activism can change from ‘saving the world to saving ourselves’ and ‘finding balance in one’s soul.’ Similarly, our PWF Program Director pointed out that the focus on activism is more on one’s inner revolution leading to a more evolved self.
Participants spoke to the immediacy of social media in its ability to spread a message, especially among the youth. One attendee spoke to human nature that tends to have an obsession to acquire and accumulate things. This obsession has historically brought about injustice. Another participant pointed out that such drive to have more conflicts with activists desire to be more minimalist.
All attendees were cautioned that we need to be mindful when we are more fully consumed by the suffering from and the outrage about the injustices of the world. This can also lead to desensitization of the bigger issues that are out there. We were encouraged to fortify ourselves as best we can with tools to keep us grounded and uplifted along our journey of activism.
All of this reflects the ‘inner activism’ process as well as the need for supportive community and family. At the end of our Breakfast Conversation we were reminded that activism begins with a conversation. It’s a start, it gives everyone a voice which allows us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable as we bring about change and peace to our world.