by Mei Lim, Director of Reach Children’s Hub, Hounslow, as shared at the West London Citizens Strategy Day – a strategy day is where organisers and leaders work together to build the strategy of the local organisation.
Some of you might recognise this as Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion, but physics was not my strong point at school – something you’ll gather very quickly from the way I’m going to generously misinterpret this law in my attempt to link it to organising, but bear with me.
I was much more interested at school in music and drama, and still am, and I confess to being totally obsessed with the musical ‘Hamilton’, in which this line appears twice, both times rapped by Thomas Jefferson.
So when Daniel asked me to contribute a short reflection on action – or ‘why we do what we do’ – this line immediately popped into my head, for several reasons. First, it speaks to the fact that all actions are relational. It’s about the push and pull, and those forces, that energy is what we feel when we come together and act as Citizens – whether it’s during a 1-2-1, a house meeting, a discerning meeting, a delegates assembly or a negotiation. I’m sure you can all think of a time when you’ve had a really great conversation or meeting, the invisible thread connecting you to the other person, the back and forth that holds you both in a state of flow – that energy or positive tension is powerful and it’s what makes stuff happen, it’s how we get things done.
Even during our recent online meetings in Feltham, you could feel the energy and the tension that was created between the Citizens and the power-holders, and our action last week – with a turn out of over 40 Citizens – resulted in the desired reaction: we got the commitments we needed. And that also caused me to reflect on why turnout matters – something Daniel’s been trying to drum into me from the beginning! “Every action has its equal opposite reaction.” Small turnout, small reaction; big turnout, big reaction.
The second reason why this line resonates for me, is that Jefferson, the Hamilton musical, uses it to mark important turning points in his political career. He’s angry and frustrated at the people in power and he finally has a moment of realisation – he understands that he has to take action in order to disrupt the status quo and bring about change, and he ends up resigning from the Cabinet so that he can run for President. This is the moment in the play when he steps up and decides he wants to be ‘in the room where it happens’ (listen to the song, where a deal was done to decide where the US capital was going to be). And that’s what taking action is all about – as Hamilton wisely observes “You don’t get a win unless you play in the game”.
What I haven’t mentioned about our successful action last week, is that we nearly didn’t play, it nearly didn’t happen. The week before, we were ready to cancel. We were still waiting on meetings with power-holders, we felt under pressure to get turnout, we wanted to press pause. Thankfully Daniel was on hand to give us wise counsel: there will always be a reason to press pause, to not act. Not acting is easy, not acting requires no effort, it doesn’t give you sleepless nights. But, in the only quote which can actually be attributed to a US President, “nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
Choosing to be part of Citizens, is about us choosing to have skin in the game. It’s actually been pretty painless so far, but it does require effort and at times it is difficult. But what’s the alternative? Social injustice is everywhere and, as Madison says to Jefferson, “if we don’t [take action to] stop it, we aid and abet it.”