Dancing our way to revolution

From my newsletter this week:

You want real change? It takes work. Lots of work. But beyond our illusory fear that this kind of work is a grim labor is the freedom of knowing that this kind of work is actually a great joy.

One of my favorite quotes is Emma Goldman's famous one-liner: "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution!" I must have repeated this a hundred times if I've repeated it once.

Except, that's not exactly what Emma said.

Here is the actual quote, from her book Living My Life:

"At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. It was undignified for one who was on the way to become a force in the anarchist movement. My frivolity would only hurt the Cause.

I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business. I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement would not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world — prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal."


The fact of the matter is, in order to create the changes we want in this world, to truly liberate the oppressed, to end violence, to cease suffering...we are going to have to work very, very hard, in multiple bodies, over many lifetimes. This change will not happen overnight, nor will it happen without some measure of revolution, nor will it happen without a whole lot of effort from all of us in our own ways.

This does not mean there is no time to dance. It does not mean we all must become dour, fearful, tight, and clingy to our ideals instead of ever again enjoying a sunset, or a glass of wine, or a party, or the hugs of friends. We do not have to sacrifice the true pleasures of life, which are relatively simple and unrelated to money, in order to create change. We must be allowed to dance. To cherish the press of the hand of a friend upon our own. Shared laughter. Singing songs of liberation together.

However, we also can't just hit the commercial nightclubs, drink artificially-flavored booze from plastic cups while wearing clothing made in sweatshops, listen to music made by underpaid artists whose talents line the pockets of studio execs, and delude ourselves into thinking that this is the revolution, either.

We have to find ways to make the real work fun. We must uplift one another in times of stress and sorrow. We have to go easy on one another sometimes, and be less exacting in the face of another's human frailty, or our own. We have to remember that joy for all beings is the purpose behind every challenge we choose to take on. We have to care enough about the outcome of our revolution to make it a beautiful and caring revolution. Otherwise, we will just be nihilistically dismantling everything without regard to the deeper purposes of art, spirituality, beauty, family, culture, and pleasure. We already know what that nihilistic revolution looks like, and it is, indeed, a grim one. We can do better.

How are you fomenting a beautiful revolution that celebrates the finest things in life right now?