Lessons for an Activist from a White, Republican Male

| 2/13/2009 11:24:59 AM

Geez Activism Issue 2009Dan Leonard is an activist with all the right credentials: he’s been to Palestine, he’s worked with the poor in Uganda, he could claim roots in a notoriously poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. Leonard’s father is a “middle class, Republican, suburban evangelical.” In an essay in the latest issue of Geez, Leonard dissects his years of “empire toppling activities,” an exercise inspired by a transformative moment on a bridge with his father:

“On my most recent trip home, fresh back from Palestine, I met my father outside the train station. The bridge leading from the train station to my father’s office is home to many homeless folk, and as we approached bridge I reached in my pocket for change with the intention proving something to my dad. But as we crossed the bridge, I noticed that each homeless person we passed greeted my father by name.

“He was a celebrity on the bridge. And not a single person asked him for money. It occurred to me that he did something few activists do—walk the same path five days a week for 30 years.

“We stopped and talked to one woman, Rona. My dad introduced me and she mentioned that she had heard all about my upcoming marriage and my work with the church. She was not particularly interested in my work with the poor, but instead told me how wonderful my father was.

“I realized later that for all the times I had protested in support of the poor, not one poor person in Philadelphia knew me by name.

“It teaches me to stay in one place. Transience is dead. Activism belongs to those who have committed their lives to people and who have learned to stay put.”

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