The Common Good

'A Movement Requires Sacrifice'

The word "movement" is in the air these days. Many of the leading causes of our times want to be "movements." Wikipedia lists at least 50 different social movements, and a quick Google search brings you countless more. One thing is clear: It is hip to be in the movement business. But are we in the midst of a true social movement? Or at the beginning of one? Or seeing 50 of them all at the same time?

During my last book tour, Marshall Ganz, a seasoned community organizer, approached me after a packed event on the road. "Jim! This is starting to feel like a movement again. I haven't felt this kind of energy in a room for 40 years, since the old movement days!" "Movement" is not a word to be thrown around lightly, and Marshall is careful not to. He was in the South with Martin Luther King Jr. and in the California fields with Caesar Chavez. Marshall is seeing some signs but isn't yet convinced one is here. That is because a movement is always built at great cost. His last word to me that night at the book rally was, "The altar call isn't clear yet." Bonhoeffer warned that "cheap grace" isn't really grace at all. So we need to remember that any movement that comes without great cost is not really a movement at all.

I was on a panel last week with congressman John L Lewis, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Charles Steele, and others at the "Summit to Realize the Dream" convened by Martin Luther King III. I sat next to men who bled for social justice and watched their friends be killed in the midst of the civil rights movement. One panelist stood and began to count his personal friends who were killed during that movement; he got to four when he choked up and tears filled his eyes.

Another panelist, radio talk-show host Joe Madison, asked the assembled group a profound question: "What is the difference between a movement and an event?" He noted that their certainly seemed to be a lot of events lately. But he questioned if there was yet a movement. "The difference is simple," he said. "A movement requires sacrifice."

So are we in the midst of a movement? I'm not sure if we can answer that yet. There are many signs that I now see virtually every week that give me real hope that we could be. But I can say with certainty that having a Wikipedia article say you're a movement does not mean you are a movement. For that, we are going to have to go to a deeper level of commitment and, yes, sacrifice.

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