Part of a movement

Occupy, PlankADay, emergent church
& the Climate Reality Project

To be part of a movement is to be part of something greater than yourself. It is joining in solidarity with people of similar goals. A single voice is lost in a crowd, but the unified voice of a crowd is hard to ignore.

The Occupy movement recently hit its one year anniversary, and it has led me to consider the power of a “social movement.” In some areas of my life I feel very connected with a community, and in others I’m still searching for a place to settle. Being a part of something hits close to home. What follows are thoughts and examples from my personal experience.

Occupy movement demonstrator oaklandI was just an observer as Occupy took center stage this time last year. But I will say, as a non–participant sympathizer, I was touched. People around the country came together to demand change. They went beyond letting their “voices” be heard via and election and took to the street. They became desperate enough, hurt enough, angry enough to organize protests in over 600 communities until they were heard. As the country was in the bitter grip of recession and the Arab Spring was exploding across the ocean, I thought for the first time that we might see truly violent protests here at home.

Now before anyone jumps on me for not having my facts straight, I will say up front that I followed the Occupy news pretty closely and I still had a hard time really understanding. I mean, the basics were clear: the 99% are tired of the economic structure that favors the top 1%; the government bailed out Wall Street but left struggling families to fend for themselves. The main challenge and critique of the Occupy movement was that there was not a clear demand.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is not to argue the validity of the Occupy movement. I more interested in talking about being part of a movement. Any movement. So here are a few more examples from the last several months:

1. #PlankADay

I became part of this twitter community just a week ago, and I love it. What started as two friends who hated core exercises has grown into a thriving online community of nearly 5,000 “plank tweeps” at the last update. The movement is complete with a leader board, t-shirts and Plank Police to catch those who haven’t been posting times. This is a small example of a social movement…. but they all start small, right? It is growing organically; it is a community of support; the movement has a clear goal – get more people planking, more people fit, more people motivated to be healthy!

To learn more, or join the Plank A Day Nation, check out these resources:

2. Emerging church

Also known as the Emergent Movement or the Emergent Conversation. According to Wikipedia, emergent participants are part of, or from, a wide range of Christian faith traditions, including protestant, post–protestant, catholic, evangelical, post–evangelical, adventist, reformed, charismatic, and more. They are politically liberal and conservative.Dear Church Sarah Cunningham Emergent church

“Many within the emerging church claim to be disillusioned with the “organized” and “institutional” church. They support the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community (Wikipedia).” The emergent movement places great emphasis on social justice, using the original cultural context of the Bible, communal living and a desire to imitate the life of Jesus.

This example is fairly personal. My  brother and sister–in–law were involved in an emergent church before they moved, and Jon and I are still exploring where we fit in this varied world of Christianity. There are a lot of things about the emergent movement that we really respect and appreciate. Then again, there are things about other Christian traditions that we respect. So currently we are in this “middle space,” exploring different churches around town to see where we fit. As far as I know, there is not an emergent community here, but if there was, you better believe we would be sitting down with them and asking questions.

3. The Climate Reality Project

From the website: “Climate change is not your fault for the car you drive, the lights you turn on, or the food you eat. The climate crisis is our problem. Real solutions, systemic solutions, innovative solutions, can only come when we address it together…. The Climate Reality Project is bringing the facts about the climate crisis into the mainstream and engaging the public in conversation about how to solve it.”

climate reality project 24 hours of realityWhat I appreciate about this project is that, from what I can tell, they are not about blame or fighting over the cause of climate change. The project focuses on solutions; on changing how we think about energy and climate; on education and communication.

As the others I’ve talked about, this one is new for me. Being passionate about environmental issues is certainly not new, but I learned about The Climate Reality Project recently from Jon. And I have to say, I’m impressed so far. This is something I can buy into. A movement I can be a part of . Change I can really get behind.

Which brings me to my conclusion. This journey has taught me a few things about social movements (and these are just my opinions). First, that they must be organic. Sure, in time, movements either die out or become an organized system, organization, political party, etc. But somewhere in the beginning, in the founding stage, in the growth, it has to be organic.

Second, a movement must have a clear purpose. Occupy is an example of this not being the case, and it showed. The emergent church movement is similar. Proponents of both could say this lack of clear, organizing purpose is partly the point, and I can see that. But I also think a movement is much stronger and has a longer life span with a clear focus that people can understand and support.

Third, in our culture, a movement has to be social online. I could be a little biased because social media is a big part of my job, but so much of our get involvedcommunication, news gathering and idea generation happens on the blogosphere that a social movement simply will not as effective without a social media component.

And finally, they must have some form of leadership or founders. This one I’m willing to be argued out of, but bear with me. My online communities center mostly around fitness and health. That’s simply the part of my life that I allow online. These bloggers, tweeters and professionals have a clear goal of motivating people to life healthier lives. So is my social community also a social movement? Parts of it maybe; but not the whole. The same way I would not say all religious scholars writing blogs are part of a movement for more religious or faith involvement. For me, this is where the definition goes gray.

I guess what is most important to me is that people are active participants… they are part of something. As a professor friend said to me once:

“I want my students to be passionate about something. I don’t care if they agree with me or not. I just want them to get involved in something they care about.”

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