Two days ago, someone made a request to a group that I am a member of. We are a group of small businesses who have come together because we are frustrated with the single-minded message, spearheaded by the WMC, of the role and demands of business in Wisconsin. We feel that the voice of small business is not being heard and we are slowly building our group of business people who disagree with the path that Governor Walker has set Wisconsin on. We're a relatively new and small group; all of us our busy running our businesses and we certainly haven't developed a unified message in detail. So, we're a group, but we're also individual businesses and people.
Anyway, the request that came through this group was for someone from the business community to speak at Wednesday night's rally. That request came on Tuesday.
Now, this may come as a surprise to those who've gotten to know me through this blog, but even though I have plenty of typed words to say on the subject, and have certainly not held back, I am a very introverted person and public speaking comes hard to me. If you stop by the store and want any sort of conversation, Sachi might be a better bet. I can't think quickly on my feet and public speaking with slightly more than 24 hours advanced notice is definitely not my thing.
So, even though I joined this group because I wanted my small business voice to be heard, at the first sign of actually have to speak, I panicked. I thought, who am I to speak for the whole group? There are many different personalities in the group, will my "Wisconsin Nice" satisfy Brad's "Inner Wyoming"? What do I, as a small business even have to say? And isn't my small business, to borrow from a fellow member, too "rinky dink" to matter?
This also plays into some larger questions I've been struggling with this week. Let's just say that my optimistic outlook is having to work hard to stay afloat. Tuesday was a fabulous day downtown - it was sunny and perfect; I walked around the Capitol and felt so cheered by all the people and by the mood. And we had a great day of sales (sorry, but I'm a shopgirl, and a great day of sales always makes me happier). But after walking around the Capitol, I also had a sinking feeling (only born out by subsequent legislative action and judicial inaction) - what are we doing? are we having any effect at all? is anyone listening? what good does it do to hold my sign up to be read by people holding their own signs and nodding in agreement to me? And finally, as another friend said, after hearing about the inspiring circle of people holding hands and singing around the Capitol, "Can we just overcome already?"
Great, now this whole thing is causing me to question my self-worth and is putting a major chip in my rose-colored glasses. Well, gosh darn it!
By now, I'm afraid that I've utterly lost track of the links that I've followed and the people's words that I've read, but somewhere, someone wrote about the Capitol protests. They said, we are not doing this for THEM (because they are clearly not listening), we are doing this for US. There is something very powerful about being in the presence of so many people who are united in their commonalities, even as they cover a range of ages and careers and income levels and lifestyles. It's powerful stuff. I'm glad that I'm here for it. Maybe the legistlators are not listening; for sure Governor Walker is not listening. But we are listening to each other. And as long as there is listening and learning, as long as there are new connections being forged, the work and the worth does continue. There is no doubt that there is other work to be done - though I love the idea of hundreds of thousands of people surrounding the Capitol at all times, I also know that there is a lot going on in many other ways. I find it aggravating and amusing - there was criticism early on of the protests (along the lines of, that's all well and good, but that doesn't change things, when are you going to get to work?) and then criticism now that there aren't enough people downtown (also some implication by the Governor that the issue has gone away?!). There are a multitude of ways to speak and act, no end to phone calls and speeches and signature-collecting - I've been so encouraged by all the ways that people are inspired by the Capitol protests to work to keep Wisconsin on a forward-moving path. I would love to wave my magic wand, but there are huge forces of power and wealth that are interested in keeping this state and this country on its current trajectory and of keeping their own wealth and power. It's going to take a lot of work and time and patience.
And if I do not use my freedom of speech? If I fade back into that so-called "silent majority" which gives consent even without intending to? Um, no, that's not for me.
There's no doubt some fear - fear of speaking to so many, knowing that some people will disagree, fear of losing a friend or losing a customer, fear of an email inbox filled with hateful letters from Tea Partiers, fear of being yelled at by some Communist for relying too much on this faulty system of Capitalism. But wait, is THAT what I want to guide my life? Fear? I am reminded of my experience here at the shop - in the tremendous risk and use of energy that every day feels like. In the ways that people dismiss my efforts or are utterly uninterested or otherwise not helping me to pay rent. And yet, for every one of those such interactions, there are many more that are uplifting and fulfilling, that affirm this path that I am on. And if on some days I would rather be at home in my dark cave working on my little art projects, I have to remind myself of all the things that I would miss. If I didn't take the risk. If I didn't forge ahead. If I let fear win. If I give in to the devaluing of myself and my business because I am not big enough or rich enough.
It is especially fitting that I'm working on my altered book gratitudes journal. It reminds me, even on tiring and sad and angry days, of the things that I am grateful for. It reminds me that even though I never manage to please everyone, I can bring good things to this world.
I am also reminded of what I wrote for the sign on our door: We believe in the fundamental goodness & creativity & uniqueness of every single person. We believe in Liberty and Justice for All. That everyone has the right & responsibility to follow their passions and create a life that is fulfilling & meaningful and that makes the world a better & happier place.
And so, too late for the first speech request, but hopefully in time for another, I'm spending this morning refining my notes. I realize that standing up in front of a crowd is by no means for everyone. But I want to encourage everyone to be brave. To follow your own dream and your own truth and speak up for it. To be fearful but know that rewards come from risk. To not be intimidated into silence just because some people have more strident voices. For sure I don't want a world where all that we hear are the strident voices (even though mine has been among those of late). We have only our own stories to tell but the whole world would be so much better off if we all shared our stories.