Some folks have asked for the words I spoke at the Celebration of Larry’s life today. The following words aren’t verbatim, but are the notes I wrote to myself before I spoke. I humbly and earnestly submit them and hope they will bring some measure of healing.
Mistakes are like stumbling blocks along our path. But it’s not a matter of never making any mistakes, it’s more a matter of what we do with those mistakes. To ignore them is to be prone to stumbling into or over them again. The key is to learn from them. It is by learning from our mistakes that we transform those stumbling blocks into stepping stones, creating something that takes us over and around the perils we so often face.
As activists, when we perceive an injustice has occurred, it is in our nature to jump up, to respond, to face the threat. Usually this is a good thing. How many of us today are willing to stand up for what we believe in? Let me see you. I knew there were a few of you here tonight. I believe, however, there are times when we need to look at things from a different place. We can learn a lot from Rosa Parks. Like Larry, she was strong and courageous and passionate about her beliefs. It feels good to say Rosa Parks and Larry Gibson in the same sentence, doesn’t it? One of the greatest lessons I learned from Rosa Parks is simply this: Sometimes the best way to stand up for what you believe in, is to sit down. Rosa parks simply sat down on that bus. Think about that for a moment. Is anyone here willing to sit down for what you believe in?
Larry and I spent a great deal of time talking about this. The issues we are facing are indeed serious. The threats and harm to us are real. But there is one insidious threat that most of us have fallen prey to, and that is the threat of division. The powers that be have always known that the easiest way to conquer a people is to divide them. Nowhere was this more evident than during the genocide that our government perpetrated against the Native Americans. And still today, on the same soil, there is nowhere that the effectiveness of this tactic is more apparent than within our own movement. We have become divided. We have become divided by fear and by our own egos. We have irrationally and unconsciously come to believe that other folks in this movement are the enemy.
We feel threatened by the work of others or the notoriety of others or we simply don’t agree with their path. There are many ancient sages who repeatedly reminded us there are many paths, but they all lead to truth. The threats we face from coal and other fossil fuels are more than simply threats to our water or air or community or wallets or health or quality of life. They are more than just a threat to our future, for with a finite resource and a voracious appetite, we have no future. We are eating and superheating the very system that gives us life, we are a cancer upon our Mother Earth. The threats we face are more than just to our present, because we have no quality of life right now when we have no justice and no peace, and all our days and hours are spent fighting poverty, pollution, sickness, corruption in corporate and government power structures, and yes, even in fighting with one another. Even our past is threatened because we cannot honor a heritage we don’t remember or a heritage that has been sullied and censored by those who control us with lies and misinformation. And, all combined, we have been lulled by an anthem that proclaims our past is more important than our future.
As you can see, we are under siege from all sides. Any strategist and even common sense will tell you that putting all our efforts in one direction will leave us vulnerable everywhere else. Dispersing ourselves removes our ability to have strength in numbers. Psychologists tell us that anger is hurt turned inward. We’ve all heard the joke about the hillbilly firing squad- everybody stands in a circle facing inward, takes aim and fires. I know this is a horribly politically incorrect joke, but really I don’t tell it as something humorous, because it’s not funny. Sadly, it’s far too often our reality. We have taken to turning the focus of our anger inward and upon one another. We have all been wounded and we continue to be wounded. We must stop these self-inflicted pains. We need to come together at the center, as a coherent group, with each of our strengths facing outward. Each of us bringing our talents and strengths to bear on the task that is most fitting.
We have become divided because we are too quick to stand up and criticize one another. We are too quick to stand up and ridicule one another. We are too quick to stand up to say someone else’s way is wrong and only our way will work.
We need to learn from Rosa Parks. We need to learn when to sit down to achieve our goals. We need to sit down and learn to listen before we leap. We need to sit down and have a cup of coffee and open and honest conversations. We need to sit down with our neighbors and appreciate them for what they offer rather than demand they fit into our scheme. We need to sit down for a moment, be still and simply know what we are and that we Are.
There are indeed many paths, but only one truth. We cannot honor our own path until we respect the paths of those who struggle with us.
What does this have to do with Larry Gibson? Simply this- of all he words Larry spoke to me, the most memorable are these that he spoke to me many years ago, “We need to remember that the fight in front of us is far bigger and far more important than any fight between us.”
We have lost a dear friend, but let’s remember his words, lest we lose our way as well.
I encourage each of us, let’s learn from our mistakes, let’s forgive ourselves and forgive each other, and I welcome each of you to come and sit a spell.