Stubborn Ounces: A Question

I’m sitting in the offices of the Social Justice Fund on the 8th floor of an old office building in the heart of downtown Seattle.  I’ve spent dozens of hours in this space, watching dust motes in the sunrays and, alternately, discussing and debating grant proposals, race and class issues and strategies for social change.  I’m no longer a board member after four transformative years, but it still feels a bit like work—and a bit like a kind of home.  I’m back here to sit on a committee that will pool brainpower for the efforts of large-scale fundraising. 


On the wall is a handwritten copy of a poem by Bonaro Overstreet, which a staff member pinned to the wall to break open the last long meeting I sat through here (if memory serves).


Stubborn Ounces


You say the little efforts

Will do no good, they will

Never prevail to tip the hovering scale

Where justice hangs

In the balance


I don’t think I ever

Thought they would.  But I am

Prejudiced beyond debate in

Favor of my right to choose

Which side shall feel the stubborn

Ounces of my weight


On the way here this afternoon, Democracy Now’s daily podcast played in my ear through the new Bluetooth earpiece that I bought to raise my safety quotient (though on a motorcycle, it’s really neither here nor there since I wouldn’t likely be noodling my phone with one hand anyway).  As per policy, DN throws their beams of light around neglected corners of the days’ dark news.  In this case, that meant spotlighting the numerous and passionate street protests that have indeed erupted since the Zimmerman verdict came down on Saturday night.  Without the char and bite of blood and fire from riots in the air, the MSM would have us thinking that all was quiet on the sweltering blocks of America.  Not true: instead, as one youth activist stated on the show, young people are smarter than riots now—they have social media and savvy and history lessons and, just slightly, the momentum of the modern world on their side. 


But I wonder how all the young activists in the streets of Austin and New York City and Oakland and Tallahassee feel about stubborn ounces.  I can recall wrestling with this notion myself in college, long before I ever heard of the poem.  In 1997 I marched with the United Farm Workers through Watsonville, CA to protest the brutality and exploitation embodied by the strawberry industry (I also got tossed from an IHOP for distributing flyers to waffle-and-compote munchers, which felt carefree compared to the march under central Cali heat and the glares of state troopers).  I remember telling a friend who’d tagged along for the adventure of it that “I’d march even if I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to do any good for the workers—it’s still the right thing to do.”  I was more thinking aloud than articulating a philosophy; I was asking myself the question more than stating a principle.  It just came out as conviction like so much of my hubris did then. 


But in truth I am not sure I’ve answered the question fully.  I’m not as sure as Overstreet.  When placing your stubborn ounces costs you tears, blood and sweat, does it make sense to place them when you don’t necessarily believe they will tally a victory or a change?  Does it make sense instead to place them on scales that they can tip?  And what does that mean?  What does that look like?  Should I finish my module on trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy instead of blogging about Trayvon Martin so I can serve my clients with more clinical skill tomorrow?  Should I go home and play with my son tenderly to inch him toward a man I can be proud of in this world instead of attending another SJF meeting?


What do you think?  


  1. Nancy Lynn McCoy says

    Play tenderly my friend – those moments will be what you will remember when all else is lost, and because in one moment that possibility can be taken.

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