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Risk, Courage and Discernment: Spiritual Preparation
Risk, Courage and Discernment: Spiritual Preparation

Effective justice action requires risk, courage and discernment. This outline was developed by Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen in her support of various direct actions.

Action Discernment

Assessing whether or not an action is strategic or grounded in collective liberation, accountable partnership and the leadership of those most impacted is very complex and almost never totally clear. Local contexts mean no worksheet can give you the answers. Reviewing the Love Resists principles to see if they align with the action is a good starting place.

Some questions to consider:

  • Is this action visionary and reducing pain for people?
  • Does this action have moral authority?
    • Moral authority comes from personal experience and proximity. If you do not have the moral authority to be shaping an action, are you responding to the moral authority of those who do?
  • Is this action filling a gap in the justice ecosystem?
    • If there are many marches or many vigils, it may be less useful to do another vigil or march and more useful to do an office takeover or organize a boycott.
  • Is this action building my own and others capacity?
    • If I’m really good at making phone calls to my legislator maybe it’s time for me to train others to host the phone-a-thon events and for me to try helping with jail support or planning a creative street theater action.
  • Consider who will bear any backlash, increased vigilante or police violence, and surveillance after the action. Read Dallas Goldtooth with the Indigenous Environmental Network’s reflections.

Role Discernment

Some juicy questions to reflect on, journal about, talk over with friends or to bring to your spiritual practice.

  • What role have I been asked to play? Which ancestors (spiritual, family, social justice) have played this role? How can I lean on their wisdom? How can I do right by their legacy?
  • Consider how you will be transformed by this action. This downloadable worksheet from 30 Days of Love on Transformation and Movements is a fertile starting place.  
  • What skills are you learning in participating in this action?
  • What skills are you offering in participating in this action?
  • What skills do I not have that I need for this action?
  • How am going to go after the skills I need to learn in a way that takes into account whether or not labor is compensated, whether or not the people leading this action have capacity to offer me training or whether I need to seek out the training from other people?

Consider various risks:

  • Some people with privilege and access to stability (steady income, reliable housing, documented immigration status) and resilience practices (therapy, good food, vacation time, weekends etc) perceive risks of participating in direct action to be higher than they are. They are often taught to weigh the risks of action but not the risks of inaction. They are often less experienced in how their courage and fear shows up.
  • Some  people with less privilege and with less access to stability and resilience practices are well practiced in risk assessment and the realities of the violence of inaction. They are often more experienced with how their courage and fear shows up.
  • The goal is always to live to fight another day. The goal is also to actually fight and not pretend we are fighting when we are actually refraining from participation in meaningful justice work. This looks different for different people.
    • To consider for folks with less privilege:
      • Does this action contribute to my power, self-determination and autonomy?
      • Will facing the risks and consequences be a source of my own fearlessness and liberation?
      • Do I have the money or a plan to get the money I’ll need for lost wages or extra expenses from eating out or taking a taxi or paying for gas?
      • Am I aware of how I might be treated differently than folks with more privilege by the police, the court system, by my fellow organizers?
      • Am I in a place where this action might deplete me beyond where I want to be?
      • Will confronting violence and systems of oppression through this action help me heal or move through anger and grief?
    • To consider for folks with more privilege:
      • Are my fears about having something on my record or court dates or whether or not this is the “perfect action” based in what is likely to happen in my life? Or are they based in what a system has told me?
      • Will I be able to maintain discipline and follow the vision of the action?
      • Am I likely to think I know better and unintentionally undermine the leadership of the action?
      • Are my questions or need for information strengthening this action or adding anxiety or nervousness to it?
      • Do I know what security protocols to follow in order to not further endanger the planners or other people part of the action?

Consider your endurance

Spiritual Preparation

Find your prayer:

  • What is a phrase that is easy to repeat and come back to that can keep you grounded?
  • This can come from a song, a poem, a chant, a prayer.
  • Some examples might include:
    • “My liberation is bound up in your liberation.”
    • “None of us are free until we are all free.”
    • “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.”

What are some things that push your buttons? How do you plan to keep your grounding? Examples:

  • I really need keep my blood sugar up or I get anxious. I plan to bring snacks with lots of protein to planning meetings and to the action. If I start getting worked up I plan to take 3 deep breaths and quietly sing When I Breathe In I Breathe in Peace to myself.
  • When I see folks with their faces covered, I get a little nervous because I’ve hard experiences with folks who dress like that at protests. I plan to remind myself that we are all fighting for liberation and I am responsible for my own actions. Depending on the vibe I get, I’ll either give a little space or introduce myself so we can feel connected.
  • When cops raise their voices or get in my personal space, I get really angry. I plan to remind myself that singing and chanting loudly are a great way to express my anger and what I stand for. I plan to turn my attention away from police and toward the people I’m here with.

Grapple with ego and impact:

Example:

  • My ego wants: good photos taken of me, affirmation from people of color, to prove that I am radical, to be able to say that I was there, to have a chance to lead that neat chant I just learned.
  • Impact requires: centering the voices of those most impacted in our messaging and media, me to pay attention to the needs of those around me for water, calm words, band aids etc, my network to add to the bail fund to pay for the costs of my arrests plus some, me to share the skills that have been invested in me with others.

Practice Abolition

  • How can be in solidarity with all those in jail today? In the future?
  • Consider paying bail for others in your jail.
  • Consider that what is a powerful day of action for you, is a day of violence, oppression and pain for others who may be in jail with you.

Spiritual Practices After Action

Gratitude:

  • Write thank you notes to the people who coordinated the action, to any organizations or congregations that shared their space. Or to whoever watched your kids or talked through your questions or reminded you to bring sunblock. Try out these thank you cards you can print and mail from Side With Love.
  • Give financial support and amplify financial asks to whoever organizations that supported the action and a bail fund if relevant. It makes a huge difference. If you went to a training, felt supported by a marshal, learned something from a speaker, resource those things!

Take Care of Community:

  • Follow through with jail support or other ways to support those who took risks.  
  • Is there anything you heard or said that needs in repair or follow up? If you heard something mean or hateful, how do you want to process that? If you said something that you realize later perpetuates stereotypes, assumptions or harm, how do you want to apologize and repair?

Get Strong for What Is Next:

  • Take some time to reflect on any learnings for yourself or your congregation or community. Possible questions that might be helpful:
  • Was there a skill or gift that I really got to share during this action or in the preparation for it? How can I keep sharing that gift?
  • Was there a skill or gift that I realized I don’t have that I would have benefited from (medical skills, knowing songs or chants, protest preparedness, lack of knowledge about an issue or organization etc) during the action or preparation? How do I want to grow that skill or knowledge?
  • Was there a time I was able to bring my spiritual practices (song, prayer, breathing, meditation, chant, movement) to a challenge I faced at the counter-protest and resistance rally?
  • What did I learn about me and my community’s relationships with justice organizations? With other spiritual communities? About our ability to tolerate the unknown? About our ability to follow leadership? About our ability to offer leadership? About how it feels when we risk?
  • These downloadable worksheets from 30 Days of Love on Relationships and Movements and Covenant and Movements have juicy prompts to get you going.

Civil Disobedience / Direct Action Resources

About the Author

  • Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen roots for the Wisconsin Badgers, lives in Boston, and is is learning all the time about courage, singing, cowardice and prayer. She is the Senior Strategist with Side with Love. She is a queer Vietnamese-American and proud Midwesterner. She is affiliated as...

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