Take Nothing Personally: The Rise of the Network
By Kesha Ram
“At this time in our history we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment we do so, our spiritual growth comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred way and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.” – Hopi Elder
A sea of pink knit hats erupting in song, laughter, and cheers. Record-breaking demonstrations across the nation and around the world. Women holding space for each other across difference, moved by the deafening roar of our own voices. Our collective power has been awakened – unapologetic, uncensored, and unbowed.
I have been in politics for my entire adult life. I have run for office eight times. I believe in the power of our institutions. I am conditioned to respond, react, and ascribe meaning because that is what has been expected of me. And yet, in this pivotal and fluid moment in history, it is not my job to have answers. It is my duty to listen. That is what I did in attendance at the Women’s March in our small Vermont capital of Montpelier, a city of less than 8,000 residents that swelled to nearly 20,000 on January 21. I listened to Muslim Girls Making Change, a collective of high school-age women in Vermont who use spoken word to tackle everything from pride in wearing their hijab to having their academic success measured by the color of their skin. To the woman near me who said this was her first political demonstration but she is so worried for her granddaughter’s future that she will continue to call, write, and march. To a little girl who was next to us inside a taco shop as we warmed up after the march and said “Resist” as she looked at us with a big smile on her face.
Many of us are seeking answers, desiring certainty, and wanting clarity. And the beautiful thing is people are not waiting for someone else to provide it to them. Without needing to be told, we are facing this existential threat together and determined to come out stronger. We are the ones we have been waiting for. Our leaders are simply hoping to catch up. History may eventually assign credit, charismatic and eloquent leaders may emerge, but this is the story of a faceless and nameless collective of people empowering one another with tools, information, and connectivity to make sweeping change. The Women’s March is not an isolated experience, but a watershed moment where the invisible thread that ties our growing movement together becomes visible. This is the beginning of something bigger. This is the rise of the network.
Networks are not inherently good or bad. Actors can take advantage of communication channels and connective tissue to nourish and strengthen bonds or to engage in destruction on a more massive, rapid scale. Social media, for example, can be used to engage in a simultaneous demonstration of political dissent like with the Black Lives Matter movement or it can be used to spread false narratives and dangerous misinformation. So the question is what role will each of us play individually, in our organizations, and as a larger collective to shape our networks into a force for good? There is deep wisdom in taking nothing personally, gathering ourselves, and moving forward in a sacred and celebratory way.
Give Everything Selflessly
If we are to take nothing personally, we must be ready to give everything selflessly. It may seem counterintuitive, then, to put your ego on the line as a means to this end. But I am here to tell you that stepping up to seek a role in appointed or elected office is a radical act in this moment. When we shy away from the conflict, challenge, and sacrifice of serving in the public sphere, we have let ourselves take things too personally. We have ceded these spaces to those who have the ego and drive to be someone, rather than those who have the will and determination to do something. Do not be afraid of the outcome – it is the doing that matters.
So many women expressed being deeply and profoundly moved by casting their vote for a female candidate in the November election. And then came the deep shock and disappointment of having that dream dissolve. Many asked what they should tell their children, especially their daughters, about a nation that has yet to shatter the glass ceiling in the year 2016. We communicate much more in deed than in word by running for office ourselves. We will only shatter that glass ceiling by rebuilding the foundation on which we stand.
Gather Yourselves, Be Each Other’s Keepers
This is a time to be in authentic relationship with one another. Spread truth, look into the eyes of your neighbors, invest time and resources locally. Now is the time to take care of your health and that of your family, start a reading group, go to a community meeting, build capacity in your schools, influence state and local decision-making.
We may feel despair about who is making decisions at the national level, and those decisions do have a real impact. They could mean loss of a visa for a refugee facing life and death, lack of access to reproductive health care for a young woman, or the destruction of the land and water for an indigenous community. But doing what you can, where you can, when you can could also mean a life is turned around, a hand is extended, a connection is made in way that adds value in this world.
Celebrate This Moment of Being Alive, Aware, and Awake
Many of us are going to bed and waking up despairing and defeated. We feel too exhausted to turn on the news and guilty for missing it. I am reminded myself of the Buddhist teaching of “The Second Arrow.” When we experience a painful or difficult emotion, we layer on judgement, criticism, and blame. Essentially, we react to being shot with one arrow by shooting ourselves with another. This will not help us on our journey.
We can instead be grateful to live in this time when our strength, courage, and the very fiber of our being is tested. There is not work and struggle, but duty and honor in what we do. It is sacred and revelatory because we are doing it together. There will be more marches, more calls to action, more victories and setbacks. We will remember these moments, where we were, who we were, how we made a difference. And those who come after us will remember, too.
Kesha Ram, Interim Director of Organizational Development
Kesha became a student of what makes a community whole growing up in her Indian immigrant father and Jewish American mother’s Irish pub in Santa Monica, California. Her adolescent activism in Los Angeles was divided between environmental protection and social justice until she met Van Jones, then Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and she began to see the “light at the crossroads” between the two movements.
She sought cleaner air, a more human-scale community, and a new adventure when she moved across the country to attend the University of Vermont. There, she began exploring environmental injustice faced by Vermont communities, which translated beyond her thesis work into a successful run for the state legislature at the age of 22. She served in the Vermont House of Representatives for eight years championing civil rights, tribal recognition, community-based land use planning, and protections for victims of domestic and sexual violence. In addition to her legislative service, she has worked as the Legal Director of Steps to End Domestic Violence and the Civic Engagement Director for the City of Burlington.
Kesha has served on the board of the Center for Whole Communities for six years before working as Interim Director of Organizational Leadership. She sees this new role as a way to uplift care, connection, and celebration for the organization in a critical juncture for its growth and expansion.