Beautiful Trouble at the Lunch Counter

Last week I realized trouble can be beautiful. I attended Resisting Oppression Through Nonviolence, a courageous, heartfelt webinar offered by Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI), which I am a member of.

Mel Duncan, Nadine Bloch, and Daryn Cambridge are deeply engaged in creative peacemaking all over the world. Mel Duncan is the co-founder and current Director of Advocacy and Outreach for Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), a world leader in unarmed civilian protection (UCP). Daryn Cambridge is a manager for the EPIC project at Training Resources Group, Inc. – an international organizational development and training consulting firm.

Nadine Bloch is the Training Director for Beautiful Trouble, a global network of artist-activists empowering social movements to creatively respond to injustice in ways that open up new possibilities. It believes in people power and the game-changing role that art, mischief, joy, and humor can play in the struggle for a better world.

Daryn Cambridge shared the photo above, of the Woolworth lunch counter protest that turned ugly in May, 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi. People poured ketchup, mustard and sugar on the student demonstrators who were making a stand against segregated seating in restaurants.  

The image really stuck in my mind and heart, long after the webinar, so I went to Google to find it and share it with you, to ignite your heart too. And to think about how we can create a different world, a world where it is safe to share our convictions and where we trust ourselves and each other as community members, committed to helping each other meet our core needs. Or as Dr. King put it, as Beloved Community members.

Dr. Martin Luther King popularized the notion of the “Beloved Community.” King envisioned the Beloved Community as a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings.

As explained by The King Center, the memorial institution founded by Coretta Scott King to further the goals of Martin Luther King:

“Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth  of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.  Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”

Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King and thank you for this beautiful vision!

I was with friends yesterday, and none of them remembered Dr. King’s concept of Beloved Community. This morning it occurred to me that perhaps people weren’t able to hear it back then because we were not ready for it. But maybe we are now.

Some people challenged Dr. King about why he encouraged demonstrations like the lunch counters that “incited trouble”. He knew that stepping outside people’s comfort zones was required if life-serving change was going to happen.

These students are not struggling for themselves alone. They are seeking to save the soul of America. They are taking our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In sitting down at the lunch counters, they are in reality standing up for the best in the American dream. They courageously go to the jails of the South in order to get America out of the dilemma in which she finds herself as a result of the continued existence of segregation. One day historians will record this student movement as one of the most significant epics of our heritage.” Martin Luther King Jr.

Nadine Bloch, of Beautiful Trouble, reminded the MBBI webinar participants that if we want to create the world we want to live in, we in the U.S. need to rebuild our nonviolent protest muscles.

I was relieved to learn about Nadine’s Beautiful Trouble, because I too sense that we citizens need to take more risks in the U.S. to protect our freedoms and create the society we want to live in, and I feel the flabbiness in my own protest muscles. And I think more people would stand up against injustice if they were organized for this in more creative and fun ways.

Although I attend marches for causes, such as for anti-war, anti-fracking and climate awareness, I have been afraid to “get involved” more deeply. Besides a few insults from hecklers, I have never had to face physical danger to protest, and I’m not sure I have the courage and conviction to do so.  I’m glad people like Beautiful Trouble are finding ways of making protest work more interesting, safe and even fun. Wow, fun.

I’m not clear where my own “activist line” is. What levels of danger and injustice have to happen before I am willing to spend my precious time and risk my safety to stand up for a cause? I don’t know the answer, but I know it is a very worthy and important question. Sharing it with you today is a baby step toward answering it for myself.

If you are inspired to share your thoughts on how you answer this question for yourself I’d be very interested in hearing them.

Bringing all this back to me, my work today is about minimizing the necessity of “beautiful trouble”, and creating Beloved Community by helping people to acquire “feelings and needs literacy” so they can learn to speak compassionately to themselves and others as they identify core needs that need to be met, build respectful teamwork, and get inspired, not guilted or manipulated, but inspired to help each other.

Peace, blessings, and special gratitude to Dr. King on his holiday,

Catherine

P.S. If you are experiencing too much “beautiful trouble” in a key relationship, like with your spouse or business team member, I invite you to set up a complimentary session with me here, Breakthrough Conversation. We’ll talk about your vision for change and how you can overcome your communication and relationship obstacles.

About the Author Catherine

Catherine Cooley is a mediator and a communication coach. She has worked in environments of extreme conflict including prisons, the court system and local communities teaching what she calls "Breakthrough Conversations." She specializes in helping people foster clear, respectful, warm, cooperative relationships at home and in the workplace.

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