This text is a homily by CUSJ President Margaret Rao, of First Unitarian Church of Toronto, on the January 2019 theme of Change.
Good Morning Everyone!
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to share a testimony with you on my life as an activist. In keeping with the theme of change, an activist is, simply put, a change agent. A change agent has a vision and values to live by. My vision? – a locally sourced, publicly controlled, green, sharing economy! My values? – love and justice in action! African American educator Cornel West describes Social action as ‘what love looks like in public.’ A just love would bring about “a world in one piece/peace.” This was Eryl Court’s favourite saying. Eryl, a lifelong U.U. peace activist, died last month in her 94thyear. Eryl embodied love. I am sure she died as peacefully as she lived. Mozart’s Requiem, sung by the Choir today, is dedicated to Eryl.
I offer you a brief snapshot of an impressionable period in my life. I came of age in the mid-sixties. It was a time of great spiritual, societal and political change. In Quebec, it was dubbed the ‘Quiet Revolution’. In 1968, our newly elected Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a charismatic intellectual, waxed eloquently on ‘the Just Society’. He also observed, ‘If Canada is to survive, it can only survive in mutual respect and in love for one another.’ Heady words for an idealistic 15 year old! Sadly, fewer ears were listening to Chief Dan George’s Lament for Confederation on Canada’s 100thbirthday. We know better now.
That same year, 1968, I was voted Miss Congeniality by my grade nine class. Psychologically speaking, my friendly nature was based, not just on trust, which is hugely important in any relationship, but also on a basic survival instinct, as in safety and strength in numbers. Whatever the reasons, the end result is social cohesion and a sense of belonging. All for one and one for all! As an adult ESL teacher to new Canadians, I extended the same welcoming ways to my students and soon found myself politically engaged in refugee rights. No One is Illegal!is a network and rallying cry for asylum seekers, similar to the words we share each Sunday, ‘You belong here because you are here!’ Social justice groupie that I am, one justice cause led to another over the years and now I’m an official senior citizen activist and honorary Raging Granny. Civil disobedience is only one aspect of what we do. It’s the ‘civil’ discourse and ‘civil’ behaviour amongst ourselves, sorely lacking in many quarters today, that make our various solidarity actions successful. We all need to improve on our active listening skills.
At the age of 66, I no longer have the energy level, nor the eyes, of my youth, but I am the same idealist and multi-issue-oriented person I’ve always been and continue to be as President of Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice. Our keynote speaker on May 12th in Shaw Hall, is Toronto author, artist and poet, Joyce Nelson. Her latest book is Bypassing Dystopia: Hope-filled Challenges to Corporate Rule. As I see it, there are two urgent realities we must address:
- The environment – climate change is an existential crisis, whether we bury our heads in the oil sands or not, and
- The economy, which isn’t working for anyone, including the 1%.
We need an eco-economic system that puts the earth first, and the financial system last. As my dear elder activist friend, Ann Emmett, puts it, ‘We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.’ There is hope when we act and there are amazing blueprints for change, such as the Leap Manifesto. Since I have run out of precious time, I ask you to check out 15 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s latest call to action on youtube. Thank you.