I mentioned my great-aunt Dot, a social activist, in a GGC post a few weeks ago. Her presence in my life this year has been monumental and my first thought, after dropping the kids at school the day after the election, was to call her.
She will know what to say. She will mourn with me. She will tell me to get back up and fight.
I was right. She did all of those things and more. And because she was so helpful—and IS so helpful to me, and has been for the last several months—I asked if it was OK if I interviewed her for a post.
She said yes.
Rebecca: My dearest Dot. The morning after the election, you were the first person I thought to call because I knew you would be a motivating voice for me—and you were. You told me to mourn but not to crumble. "Get up," you said. "Use your voice. Use your platform. STAND." I've thought of those words many times over the last week and a half. I am still very much in mourning but I am also angry and anger makes it impossible to sit still.
As someone who has devoted her life to civil disobedience, who has learned how to channel her anger into action, what advice do you have for me and for the millions of women who are angry and looking to channel that anger into REAL WORK?
Dot: Anger is definitely a motivator, but it can cloud clear thinking when it comes to action. Fine to release it, running, beating on pillows, screaming under water, throwing rocks. But railing against "them," shouting epithets, blaming ... it's not useful or helpful. Quite the opposite. Direct action needs to be carefully planned and specific to an issue. In this shocking and unexpected situation, it's especially important to regroup and figure out what caused it, how it happened. What did WE do or NOT do to bring this about? Something different is required of us now. Something different happened, so the old ways won't work. We have to stop and really examine what happened. To make sense of it, we have to step way back, see the big, big picture, reframe it from an objective perspective.
So, stepping back. One way of looking at it is, we've been tripped, tricked. He's upped the ante on us, dared us, so if we step up to the challenge, we have to keep his feet to the fire.
Rebecca: A lot of people are afraid to speak up but WANT TO. What is your advice for those who are new to dissent? Why do you think that protest is so important?
Dot: It's not about protest only anymore, it's about being proactive, going for what you want, being congruent, using personal power for the common good.
Rebecca: You spent several decades organizing peaceful protests and marching for causes that were important to you. What results did these protests yield? Did they succeed? Fail? Can you explain?
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Dot: How does one measure success? Fail how? It's not a contest, not about winning or losing, but about acting congruently, in accord with one's conscience, doing what feels right and appropriate to do.
Rebecca: You have been jailed several times. You have gone on hunger strikes and spent time in solitary confinement standing up for what you believe in. Has there ever been a moment when you doubted the worthiness of resistance?
Dot: NEVER, because it was never about "success." It was always about doing the right thing, following my conscience. Only once I did an action more because I was urged to rally others than because the impulse originated from me, and I noticed the difference. I didn't feel as completely grounded in my commitment.
Rebecca: I believe that we should include our children in our civil disobedience, and I applaud children and teenagers for taking a stand these last few weeks and participating in demonstrations all over the country. MANY disagree with me on this and think dissent is an adults-only action. Why do you think that is and would you agree?
Dot: Separating children from engagement with social and political events is a huge disservice and insult to their intelligence, to say the least. One of the great sicknesses of our society is spoiling our children by not involving them in work and regimenting their lives by isolating them in an unnatural, dumbed-down school system.
Rebecca: If you were to lead a resistance movement today, how would you do so and what words would you share in solidarity?
Dot: Imagine the world we'd like to live in and start building it right where we are.
We could start by campaigning for a national movement to secede from the corporate economy. Put funds in local credit unions, stop online shopping, shop locally for everything you need, support local organizations, local social services, aim for everything sustainable. Hunker down, live simply. Share tools and equipment, grow gardens. That's how the "back to the land" movement started in the late '60s. We said, let the establishment institutions crumble, leave them behind, let's go back to the land and build new institutions. I recommend turning the arrow inward and look at all the ways we/you collude with the corporate system running the world. Follow the money. Your money. My money is my personal power. Money is speech, right? So let's use our money to support our local communities.
Rebecca: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Dot: That people would wake up and see how totally embedded we are in this "dirty, rotten system" and begin to make changes in their everyday lives to be more congruent, to walk their talk. I don't think most people are willing to make the kinds of "sacrifices" necessary to bring about the world we all claim we want.
Rebecca: I'm going to end this with a video of you reading a poem that I regularly return to when I feel lost and overwhelmed by everything and everyone and all of the things I'm trying to do, ways I want to help. Thank you, Aunt Dot, for being such a beacon of strength and inspiration for me this year. I adore you.
And to everyone who is reading, if I have one piece of advice to give today, it would be this: When possible, surround yourself with 9-year-olds and 90-year-olds. It has been my experience that the greatest wisdom and the most profound learning comes from those who have recently arrived on this planet and those who have been kicking its trails since long before we were born. xoxo, Rebecca Woolf