Paint your own leaf: How not to get lost in the enormity of the landscape of resistance

Paint your own leaf: How not to get lost in the enormity of the landscape of resistance

“It’s been a heck of a week so far” is something that I have found myself saying each and every week since President Trump began his term in January. For citizens, activists, organizers, journalists, politicos, and pundits of all stripes, these past 120 days have been many things, but foremost among them they have been exhausting due to the near-constant stream of outrage, concern, and even fear that have been produced by the insane actions carried out by this administration on a daily basis. Even Sen. Susan Collins, who has seemingly spent much of these past months actively trying to ignore the flood of scandal and creeping authoritarianism this week plaintively exclaimed “Can we have a crisis-free day? That’s all I’m asking.”

For Mainers engaged in resistance, the overwhelming stream of calls to action, of new fronts opening up in the war against reaction and corruption, can be paralyzing.

As battles for the heart of the Republic rage in Washington and around the country, we still face the prospect of a LePage administration that remains dead-set on grinding poor and working-class Mainers into the dust, factions of the legislature that continue to wage war on the will of Maine voters, as well as impactful and often forgotten battles around school and municipal budgets that have huge impacts on individuals across each and every of Maine’s 504 towns and cities. Even in the assurance that we are joined in these struggles by hundreds, thousands, and millions of others around us, the scope of challenges that we ask ourselves and others to stand against is immense.

Obviously, the response to these challenges cannot be to let them overcome us or to let ourselves get lost in the enormity of the landscape of resistance; there’s simply too much work to be done to be paralyzed by barrage. But that said, how do any of us with lives, families, jobs, and finite capacity make sense of how we can best fit into the struggle in times like these and keep ourselves mentally and spiritually afloat?

In answering some of these questions, Saul Alinsky— considered by many to be the godfather of community organizing— had this to say in his famous 1971 book Rules for Radicals:

“In the totality of things [the organizer] is engaged in one small bit. It is as though as an artist he is painting a tiny leaf. It is inevitable that sooner or later he will react with “What am I doing spending my whole life just painting one little leaf? The hell with it, I quit.” What keeps him going is a blurred vision of a great mural where other artists—organizers—are painting their bits, and each piece is essential to the total.”

Perspective—having it and keeping it— is essential for people who engage in the work of organizing or activism. Without it, the full scope of the movement (and the injustices that make such a movement necessary) around us can overwhelm and overload us.

That is not to say that staying informed and aware is a bad thing; on the contrary, it is absolutely essential. But in deciding how to engage, it is important to remember that the problems and injustices that lie closest to you are the ones that you are most likely to impact the most strongly. Coincidentally, they are also the problems least likely to be able to be solved by someone else. Call or write your local legislator. Attend the next budget meeting of your city council or select board and ask what your local elected officials are doing to advance an agenda that creates a more vibrant, inclusive and equitable community. Organize a local solidarity action for the fight to protect your access to healthcare.

Our “leaves” may not seem large in the grand scope of Trump, Comey, or the national news that seems to be breaking with each new hour, but it’s in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our towns where we have the most power—and the unique responsibility— to carry the movement forward. And if we are each able to own those unique responsibilities, we will be doing more than any of us might realize to preserve our civic culture and ultimately achieve the aims of this democratic resistance.

Photo via Sarah Rawlings.

About author

Grady Burns
Grady Burns 31 posts

Grady Burns is an activist on issues involving young Mainers. He serves on the Auburn City Council and is president of the Maine Young Democrats.

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