A Portal to Social Change

During the Indochina War (as the Vietnam War should more accurately be called), I imagined that what I could do to end the war was mainly to take part in demonstrations and marches, and I did this, but without enthusiasm, since in the crowd I tended to feel like just one more human molecule. As I learned about social movements, and the role they played in American history, from the abolition of slavery and the labor movement, and the right-to-vote for women movement, up through the civil rights movement and anti Indochina war movement itself, I realized how important the exercise of freedom of assembly is.

This sense was reinforced later as I began to learn about the history of nonviolent struggle, and its role in the American Revolution--in which nonviolence had gone an amazing distance toward neutralizing British colonial rule before the Minutemen took over the independence movement in 1775 and violence was ignited at Lexington and Concord-- and the Russian Revolution --in which nonviolent action brought down the tsar and established a democratic state (soon overthrown by the Bolshevik coup d'etat)-- and struggles for freedom, in country after country.

Despite this sense of the importance of demonstrations, I had the feeling that taking part in them (like taking part in elections) was the very least one could do. But what else was there to do? I didn't know.

What opened my eyes, near the end of the war, and made me wonder how I could have been so out of touch, was the experience of going to Washington, DC not for a demonstration, but for a national conference on ending the war. I had the experience there of walking through a door and finding and becoming a part of a nation-wide community of citizens and organizations who not only shared my convictions about the war but who had a lot more experience and who knew a lot more than I did.

There was a room at the conference where dozens of organizations had tables with books and reports and pamphlets and brochures--and people. It was kind of a smorgasbord. I gravitated to the groups I liked best or that were closest or most relevant to me.

I quickly learned that, as Grace Paley told me later, "You need other people. There is a lot more that you can do with other people than by yourself." This may not (or may) be true for absolutely everybody, but I found that there were any number of things which if I didn't do them myself might not not get done at all. These included for example, contacting people by phone and mail to lobby key members of congress regarding key votes, organizing events such as film showings and community meetings, raising money, miscellaneous committee work, sweeping the floors of the community center, stuffing envelopes, and so on.

There were things anybody could do (but that often nobody did), and things that require pretty specialized skills. Some of these --writing, organizing, photography-- I thought I had, or at least wanted to develop.

The purpose of the Portal to Social Change on this website is to offer a similar experience and opportunities to web visitors.

Walter Miale