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Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times



I once heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak at a Los Angeles benefit for a South African project. He’d been fight­ing prostate cancer, was tired that evening, and had taken a nap before his talk. But when Tutu addressed the audience he became animated, expressing amazement that God had chosen his native country, given its shameful history of racial oppression, to provide the world with an unforgettable lesson in reconciliation and hope. Afterwards, a few other people spoke, then a band from East L.A. took the stage and launched into an irresistibly rhyth­mic tune. People started moving to the music. Suddenly I noticed Tutu dancing away in the middle of the crowd. I’d never seen a Nobel Peace Prize winner, still less one with a potentially fatal illness, move with such joy and abandonment. Tutu, I realized, knows how to have a good time. Indeed, it dawned on me that his ability to recognize and embrace life’s pleasures helps him face its cruelties and disappointments, be they personal or political.


Few of us will match Tutu’s achievements. But we’d do well to learn from someone who spent years challenging apartheid’s brutal system of human degradation, has continued to speak out for justice since then, yet has remained light­hearted and free from bitterness. What allowed Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and untold numbers of unheralded South Africans to find the vision, strength, and courage to persist until apartheid finally crumbled? How did they manage to choose forgiveness over retribution while bringing to justice the administrators and executioners of that system? What similar strengths of spirit drove those who challenged entrenched racial segregation in the United States, or the dictatorships of Eastern Eu­rope, Latin America, Egypt, and Tunisia? What now enables ordinary citizens to continue working to heal their communities and to strive for a more humane world, despite the perennial obstacles, the frequent setbacks?


We live in a time fraught with bad news: more than one in five children in America children lives in poverty, and our economic inequality, the most extreme in the developed world, has grown to levels not seen in a hundred years.  Our political system seems broken, captive to the greediest and most cynical. Almost every week brings an off-the-charts flood, drought, ice storm, hurricane, or forest fire, while scientists make clear that such events will continue to spiral out of control unless we address global climate change. Meanwhile, day-to-day demands of work, school, and family take so much of our atten­tion that it’s hard to engage such potentially overwhelming realities. Merely thinking about them is to flirt with despair.


And no one is immune, not even those whose occupations or passions directly involve helping others or bringing about constructive social change. For years, I’ve traveled throughout the country, lecturing to campus and community groups. Almost every­where, I encounter people doing important work who nonetheless question whether their actions still matter, whether it’s worthwhile to keep mak­ing the effort. I’ve heard this refrain from teachers struggling to help their students learn in crumbling inner-city classrooms; from nurses and doctors trying to deliver quality medical services while navigating bureaucratic insurance mazes; from Republican Chamber of Commerce members attempting to save small ru­ral towns from going under; from eighteen-year-­old students and eighty-year-old grandmothers.

Hope may actually be more beleaguered in the wake of a president who won the office in part by branding himself with it. Think of the omnipresent posters and stickers with Obama’s stylized portrait, as rendered by artist Shepard Fairey and the word HOPE below. Too many of Obama’s supporters expected him to live up to this iconic image. Then, when his presidency didn’t instantly transform American politics and key campaign promises remained unfulfilled, they retreated into demoralized withdrawal. We can debate how much the resulting spiral of disappointment was due to unrealistic expectations, Obama’s shortcomings, the tenacity of his opponents, America’s broken political structures, or the failure of Obama supporters to stay engaged following his initial election. But however you assess this particular president, the roller coaster of raised and dashed expectations left many concluding that political participation is a rigged and futile game. 


Moments of doubt are inevitable, especially in a culture that embraces cynicism and mocks idealism as a fool’s errand. But if we look at life through a historical lens, we find that the proverbial rock can be rolled, if not to the top of the mountain, then at least to successive plateaus. More important, simply pushing the rock in the right di­rection is cause for celebration. History also shows that even seemingly miraculous advances are in fact the result of many people taking small steps together over a long period of time. For every Desmond Tutu, thousands of anonymous men and women have been equally principled, equally resolute in the same causes. Having over the years drawn inspiration from many of their stories, as well as those of people whose names are more famil­iar, I created this book to invite readers to join a community of courageous souls stretching across the globe and extending backward and forward in time.


The writers assembled here have helped me maintain the belief that striving for a more humane world is worth the effort. Again and again, they’ve satisfied my hunger for hope and rescued me from despair. It’s my wish that their example will similarly inspire you to take up the essential work of healing our communities, our nation, our planet—and to persist during a time when such involvement has never been needed more. Think of the following essays as a conversation in which some of the most eloquent, visionary, and provocative people of our age explore the historical, political, and spiritual frameworks that have shaped their lives. You may not agree with all the beliefs they espouse or stands they take. But I hope their strength of conviction will inspire you.


The stories they tell embody the indomitable spirit expressed in the Billie Holiday lyric that inspired the book’s title: “The difficult I’ll do right now. The impossible will take a little while.” Holiday confronted plenty of darkness, from the lynchings she sang about in “Strange Fruit” to her many personal demons. But her voice, still with us, rises above such circumstances, lifting our spirits. By the way, the impossible quote emerged from a context that demanded the utmost perseverance and bravery; it was the motto of the World War II Army Corps of Engineers and Navy Seabees. Lyricist Carl Sigman wove the lines into a song after seeing them on the wall of his mess hall in North Africa. Imagination and courage feed each other.


Political and personal hopes are intertwined, of course. What keeps us committed to improving our communities and our country is akin to what gives us the strength to endure the challenges of our individual lives. So I’ve included pieces that straddle both worlds, such as Diane Ackerman’s moving account of volunteering at a suicide pre­vention hotline, where she faced the daunting task of persuad­ing people who’d given up on life that it was nonetheless worth holding on, and Mary Catherine Bateson’s exploration of how the most powerful personal journeys rarely follow linear paths. But my primary focus is on what moves us beyond mere individual survival, beyond carving out a com­fortable private existence, to broader, more enduring visions that can help us tackle common problems and keep on doing so regardless of the frustrations we may encounter.


Orientation of the Heart
This isn’t to say that the tasks before us are easy, or that success is guaranteed. But political hope isn’t about certainty. It’s about the sense that our actions can matter—even in circumstances where we could reasonably conclude that change is impossible.  As Jim Wallis of the Christian social justice magazine Sojourners says, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.”


Another way of expressing Wallis’s sentiment is that hope is a way of looking at the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stories of those, like Tutu and Mandela, who persist under the most dangerous con­ditions, when simply to imagine aloud the possibility of change is deemed a crime or viewed as a type of madness. We can use their experience to fuel our own engagement, even if on a far more modest stage.  In “We are All Khaled Said,” key Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim describes how he and his compatriots helped people realize they weren’t alone in their outrage at President Hosni Mubarak’s brutal 30-year dictatorship, then inspired them to publicly challenge the regime. Similarly, former Czech president Václav Havel uses his country’s ex­perience to describe how a series of small, seemingly fu­tile moral actions can bring down an empire. When the Czech rock band Plastic People of the Universe was first outlawed and arrested because the authorities said their Frank Zappa-influenced music was “morbid” and had a “negative social impact,” Havel organized a defense committee; that, in turn, evolved into the Charter 77 organization, which set the stage for Czechoslovakia’s broader democracy movement. As Havel wrote three years before the Communist dictatorship fell, so before he could know the outcome of his actions, “Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart.”


How does a person come by such an orientation? The life of Rosa Parks offers a telling clue, provided we look beyond the conventional renditions of her experience, which actually obscure how the human spirit can prevail in bleak times. We think, because we’ve been told the story again and again, that one day Parks stepped onto a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and single-handedly and without apparent preparation inaugurated the civil rights movement by refusing to sit in the segre­gated section.


Such accounts, however well-meaning, belie a much more complex reality: that Parks had by that time been a civil rights activist for twelve years, was the secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and acted not alone but in concert with and on behalf of others. The summer before her arrest, she’d taken a ten-day workshop and met with an older generation of civil rights activists at the Tennessee labor and civil rights center, Highlander Folk School, which is still going strong today. The first NAACP meeting Parks attended addressed lynching, an all-American form of terrorism once so accepted in respectable circles that white gentlemen smoking cigars and ladies in their Sunday best allowed photos to be taken of themselves standing in front of black men being burned and hanged. (The pictures can be seen in all their horror at the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis.) Out of this bleak legacy and, more important, the years of struggle to overcome it, came the courage and determination of Parks and people like her—the community of like-minded souls I mentioned earlier.


Just as nothing cripples the will like isolation, nothing buoys the spirit and expands the horizon of what seems possible like the knowledge that others faced equal or greater challenges in the past and continued on to bequeath us a better world. Historian and theologian Vincent Harding imagines a river of social justice involvement that begins with the Biblical prophets, goes forward into the future, and connects all who ever worked for change with all who ever will. In “The Progressive Story of America,” Bill Moyers looks at a time a hundred years ago when wealthy interests appeared to have an iron grip on the country’s political and economic life. Populists and progressives responded by speaking out on the injustices of their time, organizing and resisting until their voices could not be ignored. Against all odds, they redressed the balance between wealth and commonwealth and reclaimed America’s democratic heritage in ways that could be a model for today.


Even in a seemingly futile moment or losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire an­other, and that person yet a third, who could go on to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. Mandela calls this process “the multiplication of courage.” As an example, those who first took a stand in Havel’s Czechoslovakia inspired others who would later join them in overthrowing the regime, even though many of their initial efforts to bring democracy failed. Similarly, Rosa Parks’s husband, Raymond, convinced her to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a path that brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so? What expe­riences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions? The links in any chain of influence are too numerous, too complex to trace. But being aware that such chains exist, that we can choose to join them, and that they’re essential for creating lasting change, is one of the primary ways to sustain hope, espe­cially when our actions seem too insignificant to amount to anything.


Here’s another example of unexpected ripple effects: In the early 1960s, my friend Lisa took two of her kids to a Washington, D.C., vigil in front of the White House to protest nuclear testing. The demonstration was small, a hun­dred women at most. Rain poured down. The women felt frus­trated and powerless. A few years later, the movement against testing had grown dramatically, and Lisa attended a major march. Benjamin Spock, whose book on baby and child care had made him one of the most famous doctors in the world, addressed the gathering. He described how he’d come to take a stand, which because of his stature had already influenced thousands. (Later, when he challenged the Vietnam War, he would influence far more.) Spock talked briefly about the risks of nuclear escalation and proliferation, then mentioned that when he was in D.C. a few years earlier he had seen a small group of women huddled with their kids. It was Lisa’s demonstration. “If those women were out there in the rain,” he said, “their cause must be really important.” That’s when he decided to join the movement.


Sometimes not only can you achieve hoped-for goals, you can do so with a greater impact than you might have ever anticipated. In 2004, I spent Election Day getting out the vote for my preferred candidates, as I do every year. Knocking on doors in a Seattle neighborhood, I turned out three people who supported my candidate for governor but wouldn’t have otherwise voted: One forgot it was Election Day. Another didn’t know if it was still OK to use an absentee ballot. The third needed a ride to the polls. My impact had nothing to do with any eloquence or skill, and everything to do with simply showing up. After three recounts, my candidate won by 133 votes. Had just a handful of the volunteers on my side stayed home, or had there been a few more on the other side, Washington State would have had a different governor—and some significantly different laws and key appointments.

Four years later, that experience helped inspire me to found the Campus Election Engagement Project. Drawing on the most effective nonpartisan approaches from schools throughout the country, we help colleges and universities nationwide assist their students in registering to vote, educating themselves on the issues, and showing up at the polls. I’d hoped the project would make a modest impact, but had no guarantees, and we encountered more than our share of obstacles. Yet by 2012, we were working with 750 campuses, which together enrolled 5.5 million students, a far greater reach than I’d ever anticipated.


We live in a contradictory world. Dispiriting events coincide with progress for human dignity. But when change occurs, it’s because people persist, whatever the nature of their causes. When I came of age, most gays were invisible and closeted, except for a handful of courageous activists who affirmed who they were despite major risks and costs. Who could have imagined then that Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would conduct a gay marriage in Washington D.C., or that the IRS and the military would treat gay men and women as equal before the law if they’d married in states that permitted this? In “On Being Different,” Dan Savage explores the powerful shift created by those who found the courage to publicly demand respect, then continued speaking out to inspire others.


Young immigration rights activists have told their stories as well. When Gaby Pacheco was seven, her family brought her illegally to the U.S. from Ecuador. She was the highest ranked Junior ROTC student in her high school, but couldn’t join the Air Force because of her status. Enrolling in Miami/Dade Community College, she became student body president, then headed the statewide student government association. In January 2010, Gaby and three other students launched a four-month walk from Miami to Washington D.C. that they called the Trail of DREAMs, putting their freedom on the line in support of a path to citizenship. Support grew, with other marchers joining them along the way and arriving from other cities. After initially resisting, President Obama issued an executive order halting all deportations for young women and men who grew up in this country, were in school, had graduated high school or had served in the military, but were not legal residents. Gaby and her peers created what poet Audre Lorde calls “The Transformation of Silence.”


From a different political perspective, think about the Tea Party. At the time its activists began organizing, the Republican Party was in disarray, demoralized by the losses of 2006 and 2008. Tea Party members reached out through house parties, enlisting every network they could. They spoke out at town halls and public meetings, held rallies in their hometowns, state capitals, and Washington D.C.. And they organized to run candidates and get their supporters to the polls, in both primary and general elections. Whatever you think of their stands (or those of any of the movements described in this book), their participation unarguably shifted American politics.


“The world gets worse. It also gets better,” writes Rebecca Solnit in a wonderful essay called “Acts of Hope” (alas unavailable for this book, but accessible online under her name and that title). “And the future stays dark, in the sense that we cannot anticipate it.”  Change comes, Solnit argues, “Not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world suddenly.”


But how do we find the strength to stay engaged on an issue like climate change, where we may not have the time to wait for the small drops to wear away the stones, or for the long arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice, to borrow the phrase Martin Luther King adapted from abolitionist Theodore Parker? Within the past two years alone, we’ve seen the devastation of Hurricane Sandy; out-of-control wildfires in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and California (the latter threatening San Francisco’s water supply); droughts and floods throughout the Midwest and South; and what the National Weather Service called “Biblical-level” floods in Colorado. That doesn’t count comparable weather-related catastrophes in pretty much every other country on earth, or the record melt of Arctic sea ice. If we don’t soon begin reversing course, the crisis could spin entirely out of control, triggering catastrophes like the melting of massive Arctic methane beds, which would release staggering amounts of highly potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


Yet hopeful signs exist in this arena as well.  As Mark Hertsgaard writes in “Kids, Trees, and Climate Change,” solar and wind technologies are beginning to be developed extensively enough that, as reported by conservative institutions like Deutsche Bank and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, they’re becoming sufficiently price-competitive to start displacing fossil fuels in the marketplace. Meanwhile, grassroots movements are making a difference. In “Reluctant Activists,” psychologist Mary Pipher describes how helpless she felt when she learned that the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil, would pass through Nebraska, where she lives. Everyone assumed the pipeline project, greased by more political money than the state had ever seen, was a done deal. Then Pipher took the radical action of hosting a potluck. The movement she and a handful of friends helped launch quickly grew to include students, small town ministers and business owners, Republican ranchers and farmers. It grew nationally, which led to over a thousand people getting arrested at the White House to pressure President Obama to veto the pipeline. Keystone has now been delayed at least three years so far. Because of this and similar efforts, Obama began speaking more forcefully about the perils of global climate change, and supported his Environmental Protection Administration in setting strict emission limits on new coal plants that they could meet only through still-emerging carbon capture technology. In “Is There Hope on Climate Change?” David Roberts places his faith precisely in such unanticipated developments, even as the global scientific consensus grows ever more dire.


As the Nebraska Keystone activists learned, unexpected coalitions or allies can open up new possibilities. A few years ago I attended a conference of the Blue/Green Alliance, founded by the Sierra Club and United Steel Workers to work for both decent jobs and environmental sustainability. (Today the alliance includes ten major unions and four major national environmental groups, itself a victory for crossing expected boundaries). The next day, the same Washington D.C. hotel hosted the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and I stayed to interview participants about climate change. Sadly, most over 40 years old doubted its reality. But among those younger, all but one of 20 I approached considered it an essential issue that required action. “Of course we need to deal with it,” said a young woman who was reading a booklet called “How to Dismantle Obamacare” and headed her college Young Republicans. When I told her about a Virginia Tech student whose sustainability coalition included that school’s Young Republicans, she said “That’s awesome. That’s how it should be. Conservatives should be leading on this.”


This Gorgeous World
Since we never know when one of our seemingly modest acts might help change history, or engage someone else who will play a key role, we’d do well to sa­vor both the journey of engagement itself and the everyday grace that we can draw on along the way. In “The Small Work in the Great Work,” the Reverend Victoria Saf­ford advises us to “plant ourselves at the gates of hope,” even in situations that would invite pessimism, because “with our lives we make our answers all the time, to this ravenous, beautiful, mutilated, gorgeous world.” Though the habitability of the planet is threatened to an extent unprecedented in human history, the very richness of life can still renew our spirits, can still energize us. When I run on Seattle’s many beaches or wherever I go in my travels, I start out weighed down by the ills of the world and my personal obsessions. By a few miles in, the burden invariably lifts. I see the landscape with fresh eyes. I slow down, begin to take notice of my surroundings, and drink in its beauty. In “You Are Brilliant and the Earth Is Hiring,” Paul Hawken describes drawing hope from the majesty of the stars and the miraculous web of cells that constitutes our bodies. The community of conviction is part of and dependent on the entire community of life. And to that larger and vastly older community we can always return to find strength and sustenance.


I like to think that something akin to this realization is what motivated Tutu to dance so joyfully at the Los Angeles fundraising event. As the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz has written, “There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor earth.” Tutu, like other so­cial and political activists who haven’t forgotten the impor­tance of enjoyment, passionately embraces the gifts placed before him. If it’s a gift of music, he will dance. If a gift of food, he will eat. If the company of friends, he will converse, laugh, and share stories. Such are the small but necessary pleasures that enable him to look evil in the eye and be confident that the fight must be fought. For only someone who knows how good life can be is in a position to appreciate what’s at stake when life is degraded or destroyed.


Even if the struggle outlives us, even if it’s impossible to en­vision a time when it will end, conviction matters. Actions of conscience confirm the link between our fate and that of everyone and everything else on the planet, respecting and re­inforcing the fundamental connections without which life it­self is impossible. Whether we flourish or perish depends on how well we understand and act in accordance with this interdependence—the same interdependence that led King to conclude that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mu­tuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” In “From Hope to Hopelessness,” Margaret Wheatley, author of Turning to Each Other, strips this notion to its essentials when she argues that only by renouncing the certainty that our actions will be effec­tive can we persist through hard times. As long as we are connected to our fellow human beings, Wheatley says, we can draw strength precisely from feeling “groundless, hopeless, inse­cure, patient, clear. And together.” I would add that such fel­low feeling should be extended to the nonhuman world—not only for its sake but also for ours.


As Solnit reminds us, “It's always too soon to go home. And it's always too soon to calculate effect. From the time the English Quakers first took on the issue of slavery, three quarters of a century passed before it was abolished in Europe and America. Few if any working on the issue at the beginning lived to see its conclusion, when what had once seemed impossible suddenly began to look, in retrospect, inevitable. And as the law of unintended consequences might lead you to expect, the abolition movement also sparked the first widespread women's rights movement, which took about the same amount of time to secure the right to vote for American women in 1920, has achieved far more in the subsequent years, and is by no means done. Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” Plunging into the dark doesn’t mean acting randomly, without direction. We want to be as deliberate as possible in what we do and say, asking how we can bring in new allies, engage key communities, and tell the stories that embody our issues powerfully enough to engage hearts and minds. But we also need the long-term perspective that can help us persist.

Humility may be another lesson taught by this gor­geous world’s interdependence. Among other things, it counsels restraint. It says that giving up on life and the living is a form of arrogance. In “Only Justice Can Stop a Curse,” Al­ice Walker examines the politics of bitterness, the temptation to conclude that we’re destined for extinction: “Let the earth marinate in poisons. Let the bombs cover the ground like rain. Let the heated atmosphere go mad.” But Walker also remembers the acts of others that have given her cause to hope, then resolves that she will not be de­feated by despair. What is this but a form of humility—and forgiveness? And everyone needs forgiveness—ourselves for not taking on every cause and winning every battle; and others, our neighbors and co-workers, relatives and friends, and especially those who disagree with our beliefs or accept the lies and misdirections so commonplace in our culture.


Nor should we forget that courage is contagious, that it overcomes the silence and fear that estrange people from one another. Examples of human courage and vision are transferrable. They can echo far beyond particular causes, countries, and historical times. Gandhi’s inspirations included Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy and America’s Henry David Thoreau. Key U.S. civil rights leaders like Bayard Rustin and James Lawson traveled to India to learn from Gandhi’s compatriots. The U.S. civil rights movement inspired those challenging South African apartheid and the Eastern European Communist dictatorships. Key Arab Spring activists met with counterparts who’d helped overturn apartheid and bring down Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

As participants in these movements  remind us, we gain something pro­found when we stand up for our beliefs, just as part of us dies when we know that something is wrong, yet do nothing. We could call this radical dignity. We don’t have to tackle every is­sue, but if we avoid them all, if we remain silent in the face of cruelty, injustice, and oppression, we sacrifice part of our soul. In this sense, we keep on acting based on our conscience be­cause by doing so we affirm our humanity, the core of who we are and what we hold in common with others.


A Community of Voices
You may wonder if the community of voices I’ve included in this book speaks to people representing all political perspectives, or only to those who happen to match my personal sentiments. Certainly the individuals I’ve brought together share a passion for democracy and justice. That’s why I admire them. And most are critical of a runaway global market that would reduce us all to our monetary worth. But their specific politics often can’t be pigeonholed: How do you categorize those who challenged Communist dictatorships in Czechoslova­kia, Poland, and Bulgaria? Or the long-entrenched dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia? Their courage inspires me, yet many conservatives responded with equal hope to the overthrow of these repressive regimes. What of those working, whatever their political beliefs on other issues, to create a sustainable world for their grandchildren? Many of the issues these contributors take on, such as Ackerman’s work with the suicide hotline, are simply about trying to respond compassionately to our fellow human beings.


Even regarding major public issues, the voices in this book some­times differ. In a brief but powerful vignette, “Fragile and Hidden,” the late Catholic peace and justice activist Henri Nouwen writes of the hope and wisdom he gains while caring for a man who cannot walk or speak. He then asks us to speak for “unborn life, life on death row, the life of the severely handicapped, the life of the broken and the homeless.” I’m staunchly pro-choice and will remain so. Nouwen was not. We were raised in different traditions, lived through different times, developed divergent views of the world. Yet Nouwen’s essay gives me hope, which is why I included it.  If you, as a reader, disagree with the views or actions of particular writers, including my own opinions, that’s fine. In fact, I hope the conversation these voices create will model a process through which citizens can at times agree to dis­agree, even regarding highly consequential concerns, while still drawing inspiration for the larger task of taking on critically important issues.

Similarly, I hope that the voices in this book will help close a trou­bling divide between secular and religious readers. Those rooted in more secular humanist ethics at times recoil at religious lan­guage, even when it’s used to explain actions that they’d normally find tremendously admirable. Those of strong religious persuasion can react in the opposite manner, trusting only moral action that’s grounded in an explicitly faith-based per­spective. To me, religious and secu­lar perspectives on justice offer complementary ways of understanding our responsibility to our fellow human beings. So I’ve included people representing both moral frameworks, and those who meld the two. I hope you’ll view the chorus of voices in the pages to follow as united in an overarching cause—forging a common vision of human courage and connectedness.


Since I first created this book, I’ve received thousands of emails attesting to ways its stories have given people the courage to act and keep on acting for a more just world, even in the most difficult times. I’ve now developed a new edition, helping the original writers update their essays to speak as strongly as possible to the present moment, and adding new pieces that I’ve found equally powerful. Whatever issues call you to act, I hope the resulting conversation will inspire you to join the community of those who work to create a better world. Because in pursuit of that aim, all are called to participate.





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