“Act! The command rings out with passion and urgency in a tumultuous world. At home we watch while the world screams. We sit and soak while the earth aches… Action is possible. But how? The news warns against it. The Right claims no more is necessary. The Left is skeptical. The drama continues. What keeps us from becoming part of it?
Randy Martin, Performance as Political Act (Bergin & Garvey, 1990).
A lot of people have stage fright. Intelligent, creative people. Hardworking, responsible people. Good people. Thoughtful parents. Kind spouses. Generous. People who feel they have something more to contribute… but who don’t.
The depths of winter 2011 brought me clarity — as depths tend to do. I wasn’t happy with my contribution. I wasn’t happy walking around with all of my ideas, all of the ways I would respond or act… if only I was in a position to do so. And then I realized that I actually was in a position to do so. By virtue of my job, and of my spouse’s support, of my education and my training — I was in a place where I could contribute. Or more accurately, perhaps, I was in a position in which I could no longer tell myself I couldn’t.
I don’t know what animates it in me — my upbringing, or my Franciscan education, or my hardwiring, or some other thing — but I feel this tremendous responsibility. I know that I literally am “responsible” — able to respond. With so much to respond to in this world, I found myself confronted yet again with Tolstoy’s question: “In a world marked by tension between individual and community, how then shall we live?”
I realize how trite this sounds, but I care deeply about freedom. I care about the idea that democracy is intended to allow people to have a measure of power and control over their own lives. And I believe that democracy is driven by those who participate — a practice which much of the media-driven cultural pedagogy encourages us not to do.
The form of my participation — my contribution, for now — is The DFR of CNY.
The D.R.E.A.M. Freedom Revival of Greater Central New York.
I’m scared. Maybe more scared than I was when I decided last winter/spring to actually put flesh on the bones of this somewhat outsized vision. Everything about this project has been slightly insane. I didn’t initially try to get people together over the summer because I was told that no one was around in the summer. Then, our first organizational meeting on September 1 (which turned out to be really too late given the fact that the performance was a mere 5 weeks later) revealed that those who turned out couldn’t agree on a night to rehearse. So half the group now meets on Tuesdays, the other half on Wednesdays and never the twain have met…. It’s the wrong Jewish holiday to invoke it, but let me just say, “it would have been enough” if I was only writing and re-writing the music and lyrics; it would have been enough if I was only writing the script; enough if I only had to coordinate schedules of the musicians to record vocal parts for each vocal section and then editing on GarageBand and then uploading and posting on this blog and Dropbox; enough if I only had to email the musicians a couple of times a week to remind them of rehearsal times; enough if I only had to deal with catering and chair rentals and lighting and sound equipment and conceptualizing the costumes; enough if I only had to think about getting people to the performance; of publicizing (in English and Spanish), of thinking about how to attract funders, of keeping my Facebook page fresh(ish), of continuing to try to get more musicians on board.
And somehow, the good and positive energy keeps flowing around the project. The people who keep showing up are really incredible and incredibly generous individuals. And talented. And when the fear manages to rise in me about “is this going to be everything I imagined? Am I going to be embarrassed? Will people show up? Do I want them to show up?” When these thoughts come up, I remind myself that this whole idea grew naturally and almost spontaneously out of something very simple: my desire to respond to, and to truly take responsibility for, the crisis of democracy I was seeing in the United States. I took that responsibility because I was not participating except as an sideline critic and underground worrier.
Maybe I’ll get to blog here again before next Sunday. Probably not. But whether we have a packed house or a small group of friends in attendance doesn’t matter now. And I can see now that what we’ll perform is a scaled back version of what I hoped it would be… and continue hoping it someday will be. I know it’s not what it would have been had we all been working on it since June when I first brought people together around the idea in my backyard. But even that doesn’t matter now.
The DFR is something very interesting and something special. It is definitely unique. Everyone in the DFR feels the same responsibility to speak up, to act out, to celebrate, and to bring our fellow citizens together, in word and deed, to restore and reanimate the promise of democracy and freedom in this country.
I do believe that those who show up next Sunday, October 9th, will want to join this movement. I believe the DFR will grow. I believe that we will continue to add talent and energy to talent and energy and that we will find ways to fuse, through our music and our message, the many voices, the many hopes, and the many aspirations of the good people of Syracuse and Greater Central New York. I believe, finally, that nothing bad can come from such just and good intentions.
I believe this is just the start.