See No Stranger: an inspiring read

The law was designed to colonize and control the rest of us, not set us free. And yet the founders had invoked words whose power even they could not constrain–justice, freedom, equality, the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These were magical words that had a power of their own and seized the imagination of the people for whom they were never meant. In every generation, people had risen up in movements to unleash the magic of these words, to bleed for these words and expand the “we” in “we the people” to include more and more of us. Constitutional Law was an archive of these expansions and contractions.

Kaur, Valerie, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love (One World, 2020), p. 177

I’ve been reading Valerie Kaur’s excellent book, See No Stranger and not only enjoying the book but fascinated by the inner roads its content leads me down. The book is a combo of autobiography and a history of the Revolutionary Love movement she founded.

Ms. Kaur is a Sikh whose family came to the U.S. several generations ago and her commitment to change/transformation began in the wake of 2001 and the backlash of hatred in which many Sikhs suffered violence and death. There were some respects in which her path and mine were similar, politically speaking. I was inspired by the Viet Nam war and the things I learned in college about the many ways our country did not live up to its hype as a welcoming place of freedom.

We both continued to follow those convictions, learning more via things we studied in college, graduate school and then law school. The big difference was that, from the beginning, she “got” how to make every right move from joining with like-minded people, to taking internships and positions that connected her to a more powerful network, to figuring out how to inspire change in a whole community. I never knew how to be that smart about the moves I made; instead I kind of blundered along, studying, volunteering, trying to find jobs that let me help, etc.

One big difference was I homed in, in college, on the “power elite’ aspect of our problem. I quickly understood how deeply the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the rich and powerful impacts our government and our lives. I studied it from many angles and throughout my anti-war/hippie crowd of friends I talked about it till they told me I was boring. But no one wanted to hear this.

So it’s a little bit hard to launch a movement if you can’t convince anyone there’s even a problem to address. Of course we are now seeing in our country how deeply the rich and corporate factions have affected our lives and that the right wing group is trying to destroy democracy in favor of the rich basically doing whatever they want while everyone struggles, starves, suffers, etc.

But I will admit, I grew up just thinking you got an education and got a job and things fell into place, so I was clueless about seeking out networks, taking positions that would seat me next to power, etc. I can see how many times and ways I failed to make moves that might have put me in a better position to be an influencer.

My dad spent many years at Buick as a second in command in a department which he pretty much ran while a variety of others kept getting promoted over him and then on to higher positions without ever having really done anything in his department. It was years before I realized it boiled down to those other men knowing how to play the political game and my dad hanging out believing that if you worked hard and did the right thing you’d be rewarded. That’s just how I grew up.

What I did do always was to find where I could volunteer to help with environmental issues or get a job where those issues were addressed, attended rallies and marches for many causes and wrote lots of letters to senators and reps. Just a quiet dedication to trying to do something, however small. And I know the world needs the foot soldiers who just do those little things.

But I always kinda wanted to be more like Valarie, moving into a position to influence and really impact change. Very inspiring to read her book. And I love her Revolutionary Love movement!