October 20, 2010
That was then, this is now
The first social justice fight that I got really immersed in was the Pittston coal strike of 1989-90 in support of the United Mine Workers. The union worked without a contract for something like 14 months before walking out in April 1989. The main issues in the strike were health care and retirement benefits.
It was pretty hairy and lasted for almost a year. People worked really hard on that one and eventually the miners got a contract they could live with. It was a victory.
A few years later, however, and Pittston got rid of most of its holdings. People were either laid off or went to work for different, often non-union companies.
I'd do it all again. In a heartbeat. But it illustrates another of the Buddha's ideas that I think is relevant to working on social justice issues, to wit that everything is impermanent. We work very hard for things that just aren't going to last forever. We won't either, for that matter. That's just the way it is, although that's no reason not to do all we can.
I've worked hard on policy issues only to gain ground and then lose it again. On the positive side, impermanence is also a characteristic of the things we don't like too, which is always worth keeping in mind. I kept telling myself that several years ago when the misguided policies of the Bush administration seemed to be riding high.
The teaching of impermanence also reminds me that everything changes from moment to moment. In a world of flux, getting stuck in ruts or repetitive actions is a recipe for failure. What worked in the past may not work now. I've seen some activists who seem to be stuck in a time warp trying to recreate some past struggle and I've felt the urge as well, but life unrolls moment to moment.
The only way that I know to stay fresh in a world of impermanence is to pay attention and act in accordance with the demands of the moment. That doesn't mean forgetting the past or its useful lessons or not planning for the future. But you can only do either in the moment.
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