Only Connect. A prescription for times like these.

Stephen Rockwell • 15 April 2018
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Civic Direct's tag line is "Only Connect."  The quote comes directly from E.M. Forster, a British novelist of the early to mid 20th century who wrote of economic class and the hypocrisy in which class divisions are so often wrought..  The first time I saw this quote, it was on a recruitment poster for United Progressives, an umbrella group of progressive organizations on my college campus.   United Progressives connected the student labor coalition with environmentalists, feminists, anti-racist activists with others who simply were trying to make a difference.  While we weren't always successful, there was a good deal of value in checking in weekly looking for opportunities to partner and support each other's work.  At the very least we used the forum to not schedule actions and events on top of each other and at our very best we co-created an intersectional set of movements for justice in our small corner of the planet.  "Only Connect" seemed to capture the deep partnership and understanding required for true intersectionality.

Like any good branding, the tag line can mean different things to different people. All these years later, "Only Connect" continues to strike me as a challenge and even a command, while grounding itself within the most basic needs of the human condition: Connectedness.    I want to share how I am rediscovering this quote.

To state the obvious for all of us: These are times that try a person's soul.  If you care about others, if you care about the direction of our country and planet, you are gravely concerned.  You should be.  Where to start? The madness streaming from the twitter feed of Trump? The weekly rollback of environmental regulation? The continued killings of innocent black and brown folks? The latest school shooting? The GOP congress cutting taxes for people who don't need them and didn't ask for them?  In all this turmoil, living into "Only Connect" can bring support and some degree of rationality to these troubled times.  My advice to myself may be helpful to you.

  • Do more actual connecting. Recently, I've realized how little I've lived into the tag line.  This effort I've started is doing interesting things in terms of connecting online and growing audience, but I find myself sometimes missing the connectedness in these forums.  Indeed, I've too often relied on social media as opposed to making real connections with real people.   I'm sorely lacking the creation of new connections in my activism.  Perhaps some of you who have been much better at making new connections in new groups might provide guidance to me in how you are making meaningful connections through your activism.  
  • Grow our intersections.  Living into a radical connectedness acknowledges first our interconnectedness. As conceived in foundational African philosophy, "I am, because we are." We choose to define ourselves within our family, activist, political and professional networks.  Within the activist community, there is an increasing desire to move away from single issue work. This is fundamental aspect of the Civic Action Center, this activism platform.  None of us are only environmentalists, or only care about labor rights and unions.  And yet our activism and nonprofit sectors are largely set up this way.  You can be a member of 350 for climate change issues, your local union, and your progressive church, and not see those world's truly connected.  The Civic Action Center platform attempts to achieve, connecting across issue or even time.  Where are all the folks who were organized 13 years ago against the Iraq War?  I'm sure folks have moved on to other issues, but who have we lost in the process and what collective memory about how best to do the work over time?  The platform empowers folks to recruit from the allied or previous social movements.
  • Be active.  The many marches and demonstrations in the Resistance Era are not only indicators of the power and strength in numbers for external audiences, but also serve as connection points and affirmations for marchers.  The message of the march is that you are not alone, but rather part of huge network of support. Look around you at the next march.  There are a lot of people who have a deep hunger to make the world a better place and demonstrating their willingness act. The few informal conversations I've struck up at marches always leave me with hope about humanity.  I see my place as being one small node in a huge network that I can hear and see right in front of me. Keep showing up.

Active engagement and connectedness provide some respite from the increasingly normalized chaos of the Trump Era and more importantly are the foundational elements of lasting movements for justice and peace.  

I look forward to connecting with you and developing deeper connections to support your activism.