Like water, we tend to flow to the path of least resistance, and we’ll take the occasional rapid or waterfall as they come because after all it speeds thing along a bit, and it never really seems to be all that easy.
Hell, I like to do things the easy way. I’d much rather walk around the mountain than tunnel through it or, hardest of all, climb it, knowing there’s only going to be another tall peak to have to climb afterwards.
But the benefits of doing things the hardest way are far greater than merely reaching the top. The hardest way has ripples that fan out over everything, changing space and time and history and future and all the things around you.
Climb to the top of a hill and the world has changed — its smaller, more united, more visible, instead of pre-change large and unwieldy and filled with difference.
Go around the hill and you’ll likely travel less time — sure you will go further, but you won’t have as much time spent resting and catching your breath, less time moving at a snail’s pace up a seemingly smooth surface praying for a another hand hold that isn’t there.
Dig through it and you’ll probably get thee about the same time — takes money and effort to tunnel, logistics to arrange for heavy machinery and dynamite to blast and hack and cut through the core, takes planning and design to make sure you get through to the other side in a roughly straight line.
But when you say screw it, and throw away the hard hat, and step off the road, and charge headlong into that thicket and up that ever steepening slope, you inspire others. You learn things about yourself. You learn about the world around you on a personal level that you’ll never learn otherwise, in the rain and in the heat, in the snow and in the dark of night, as you half crawl and scrabble through shifting ground and slide occasionally and if you are not filled with thought about the immediacy of things, you will lose your grip and fall.
Let’s take a look at that mountain.
Somewhere in the late 1970′s, a sidestep led us in a poor direction, and by the 90′s we’d hit a point where we began sliding down the mountain.
What happened, right now, isn’t important. Why it happened, right now, isn’t important. What’s important is that we stop and look forward and up because we can’t go back now. Its done. We can think back and make all our different guesses and doubt ourselves later, all we want. Right now, though, we are climbing a mountain, and we are in the rocky feet still.
We’ve gained an audience, film crews report steadily on our progress, we’re talked of in newspaper stories, the helicopters that well never have a chance to get in float around to find moments of drama.
We’ve made it past so many obstacles so far: the furrows of the Unseen, the treachery of the Tumbledowns, the upheaval of the rock Raids, the losses in the narrow Movings during the rain. It was the Movings that attracted so many, the long days stretching on and on as we crossed over the hard ground, sometimes gaining a foothold that seemed amazing, only to watch it give way as one by one we saw companions released from the mountain to die.
It was then that we began to split up, to make our own paths, to gather in groups, each one claiming it had the best path, it was following the right route, when, really, it doesn’t matter.
Its all climbing up the mountain, and that talk is always about the easiest way, when we need to just keep climbing and not worry about easy or better or whatever because that kind of thinking and that sense of separation breeds competition, and in competition, there is only one winner, and in separate groups, there is only one leader – or else there are too many leaders, and it falls apart and plummets, destroyed by its own inability to move forward because it is too busy arguing over the best way up.
There is some merit there, though – in a single group that climbs all over, all at once, someone will find the way, and when one does, everyone will. And it does work – but not when there are only a few groups, all following their even fewer, separating that single group .
At night, there are four to six camps, four to six fires burning.
There needs to be a thousand of them, all over it, lighting it up like a beacon, proclaiming that this is not merely a collection of a few, it is something more, something incredible.
There are reasons for the split. There were the ”guides”, people who had been up the mountain before. To one group, they said “stay away from the others”. To another group, they said “they aren’t really like you.” To another they said “they wreck what you value”. And they ignored the others.
They’ve been up the mountain before. We listened. Even now, others who climbed the mountain long ago stand at the foot of it and say we don’t belong on the mountain, its not our mountain, its theirs.
It’s a mountain. It belongs to everyone. It’s a majestic ideal now, a principle, it belongs to any who would dare take to its shoulders, to all who live in its shadow, to all who can see it.
There were times when they worked against each other – our path is the right one, so let’s go this way, dislodging stone onto the group below.
If we have a thousand groups, such an action has less impact.
But it made many fear that if that other group gets there first, they will throw stones down on the rest. With a thousand, that can’t do as much damage.
We have climbed the easy parts, despite their cost, and now we face the part of the mountain where there are monsters. They will place new obstacles in our path, they will recarve the side of the mountain, they will rain fury down on us, and they are, like the Yeti, merely little things, but they loom large in our thoughts and our fears. We blame them for mishaps, we curse them when they look all friendly and reach out a hand, only to pull it back with a handsome grin and charmingly good looks.
We are, to these monsters, invading their territory, and they see it all the time, for they hold the mountain as their own, and have stayed on it, without ever reaching the top, reserving the right to decide who can climb it and who cannot.
They have been corrupted by being there, thwarted and stalled and held back by their own fears, their own cowardice, their own jealously, their own unwillingness to make it to the top and see the change it will make when they do.
And now, we risk the same. It is time to split up into a thousand groups, each in its own part, each dedicated to getting up the mountain no matter what, each tackling a different route, so that in the end all of them will get there.
In 15 days as I write this, we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of making it through the Rock Raids. Recently we were reminded of one of those who perished during the Movings, taken out by one of the mountain’s monsters as he all but ran up one place with skill and dexterity.
And we are making calls for another like him to come again.
We don’t get another.
Many of us hide from the cameras and the reporters and helicopters, thinking that it will allow them to slip unnoticed by the monsters, scurrying from bush to bush, ledge to ledge, sometimes looking as if it is as easy as pie to those of us who can see them, while they stay hidden, so that it never looks to be as many of us climbing the hill.
That lost one, he spoke to that, calling it dangerous. Some of us took that as a sign we should point them out to the watchers, reveal them.
And that’s wrong – we know it is, since when we started, we thought that way, and it doesn’t work as well.
To get them to come out, it will take a thousand different paths, so there are a thousand different fires, so there is that beacon in a time when the mountain is being fenced off.
That thousand fires? Some of them need to remain part of the six or so currently burning – they are needed.
But we need to light our own fires more closely to where we are, to show those monsters that they are more than matched, for they fear fire, and they cannot stop so many all at once.
Let’s step away from the metaphorical analogy for a moment.
We are fighting for our rights. For Liberty, for Justice, for Equality, for the Pursuit of Happiness.
Today, we need to show those who oppose us – and they are not crazy, they are not unhinged, they are not stupid, and we know this because if they were those things, then they would not be stopping us as effectively as they are. They would not be topics unto themselves, and we would not be fighting for hearts and minds. Saying all of those things means we underestimate them, we diminish them, we demonize them as they have demonized us, and in doing so, we give them more power and better chance at keeping this fight going on for many years to come.
You empower them when you do that. Do not give them power, take it from them. Take away their excuses, take away their power, take away their ability to fight us – they are not caricatures of people, they are people.
I am not saying this to be Ghandi like or MLK like. I am, truly, not in line with them. But they avoided doing that as well.
There is a place and a time for violence, but all violence has consequences, and it is the consequences we must consider.
We do not need a single leader. A single leader will lead in a direction that will be dictated by their goals and dreams, and when you are dealing with a diverse community, a single leader cannot do all of them.
We need a thousand leaders. We need to recognize them, to point them out, to say *that is one fire!*, and we need them everywhere, all at once, all over the place, in cities and towns and villages small and large and in between, in places where we are rare and places where we are common and we need to be seen and heard and that means that on occasion we will indeed need to climb to the rooftops and shout it out.
We need to take the very thing that makes us different from all the movements before us and use it. And that thing that makes us different from the movements before us is that we are all different, we all come from someplace different from the last one.
We need petition drives of every stripe and fold, we need court cases challenging everything, we need to take risks and make sacrifices of our selves and our futures so that we can all have a better chance at getting that life, that liberty, that equality, that equity, that Pursuit of Happiness that we are all seeking.
Within the same month it is decreed that this is *our* month, we are attacked by the minions of the very person who said it was our month. That’s hurtful, but part of the reason it is so hurtful is because it places the few strategies of the big orgs at risk.
Sorry, but screw that. It would hurt less if we had a thousand fires, and we kept hammering them no matter what they do.
That action is politics. We called them out on one thing, so they have gutted us on another. When you embarrass someone in politics, that’s what they do to you. And it only works when there is only “one way”.
There needs to be a thousand ways. And something will happen when we get that thousand ways.
We will see common threads, common needs, common goals, commonality itself, and then we will see what is needed the most, and it will happen because instead of seeing six fires, now they see a thousand fires.
For every dollar that our orgs combined have, our opponents orgs have ten dollars. We spend 30 million, they spend 300 million. Where there are 30 big orgs for us, there are 60 big orgs for them.
They cannot fight a thousand fires, a thousand fights, because it spreads them too thin. We cannot be spread too thin, because we are not fighting for merely an ideal, we are fighting for our very lives.
They only have an ideal. Their lives are not going to be ended in prisons or exile. They want ours to be so.
If each of those thousand fires draws a thousand people, then we have a thousand thousands. And that is not something one can ignore. That is not something one can say does not exist.
A thousand thousands.
And when we have those thousand fires, we will watch them become ten thousand fires, each with a thousand around them.
And then that will become a hundred thousand fires, because fire spreads, and when it is a hundred thousand thousands, nothing will stop us, nothing will stand before us, nothing will threaten us.
Some fires will run amok, scaring us, scarring us. That happens. It is a consequence of playing with fire, but we are not playing, we are not children in a schoolyard or a park or delinquents behind a trashbin. There will not be much of that.
We are people who many want to erase from the planet, erase from their sight, erase from history and art and knowledge.
We are people. We are *a* people.
We are kith and kin, family and tribe, and we will not be erased.
I started my climb only a few years ago, really. And today I climb not for me, but for my tribe and for my family, even though there are days when I wonder why I bother, given the way they treat me.
But I know why they do it. Go back, read it again, see that mountain.
It doesn’t matter. They seek to get to the top and see that change the same as I.
I have started a fire where I am. And some are coming to it. I have taken over a fire of another, and some are returning to it. It is not a big one yet, but is a fire.
Won’t you start your own fire?
Won’t you climb the mountain for others instead of yourself?
That leader you want is you.
Go on. Strike a match.
And climb that mountain.