What You Do. . . It Matters

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure to attend a lecture given by Rebecca Solnit. She is an historian, activist, and an accomplished writer. Her lecture was entitled, “Hope and Emergency.”

Many pieces of this lecture are still swirling about in my mind, but I want to share one particular thought with you. Rebecca Solnit told us,

You can never anticipate what what-you-do does.

I love that sentence and its quirky wording. It’s also completely true. Every day, when we engage the world with action, we create ripple effects that we can’t fully anticipate or control.

You can never anticipate what what-you-do does.

The most powerful, intentional efforts to create change can take on a life of their own, even stretching across multiple lifespans. They can have larger impacts than we anticipated. This is true even if our actions fail to meet their original goal.

Solnit talked about the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It fizzled before it could meet its main objectives. But from its wake, hundreds of activist groups spun off, and they are active around the United States right now. The Occupy Movement also gave us forms of language and framing that have stuck around. We still talk about the 99% and the 1%, and we should, because problems of massive income inequality continue to exist in our nation and world.

You can never anticipate what what-you-do does.

Solnit crafted beautiful words together to talk about connections between movements. What we choose to do today matters, perhaps in ways we can’t anticipate.

She talked about the British suffragettes and the Women’s Parliament Movement. Led by Emmeline Pankhurst, these women took bold, direct actions to demand the vote. On multiple occasions, they walked straight onto the floor of Parliament only to be mocked, harassed, and arrested. It took a long time to meet their objective, and it took a lot of sacrifice.

Though they were despised by many, they also inspired others. One of them was Mahatma Ghandi. Gandhi modeled many of his direct actions on theirs.

And Ghandi inspired others. One of them was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He modeled many of his direct actions on Ghandi’s work.

Like Ghandi, Martin Luther King mobilized others, and led direct actions alongside other leaders. One of them was John Lewis.

John Lewis is one of our leaders right now.

You can never anticipate what what-you-do does.

These ripple effects and connections impact our world all the time, even when the names attached are not the famous ones. You are connected to people who influenced you, and you are influencing others.

So. . .

What forms of liberation do you seek?

What concern won’t leave you alone?

What is your passion?

How can you put direct actions and substantive change into the world, and how can you do that alongside others?

It might involve marches and creative, disruptive actions. It might involve mentoring or opening up your home. It might involve that unique nudge of a calling that keeps returning in your mind and heart.

Act on it. You never know how large its impact can be.

You can never anticipate what what-you-do does.

Renee Roederer

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