The late musician and civil rights, anti-war, and environmental activist Pete Seeger was loved by many. While his music is certainly important, I have drawn immense strength from a little parable he liked to tell…..
Parable of the Teaspoon Brigade
Imagine that there’s a big seesaw. At one end of it is a basket half full of rocks. That end is on the ground.
At the other end is a basket one-quarter full of sand. And a bunch of us with teaspoons, we’re trying to put sand in that end.
A lot of people laugh at us, they say
“Oh, don’t you see, it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.”
Well, we say, “It’s leaking out, but we’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time. One of these days, you’re gonna see that whole basket with sand so full that this seesaw is going to go zoooom-up in the other direction.”
And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so quickly?”
Us and our damned little teaspoons. (1)
Whenever I start to feel tired and ready to quit, I remember those words: "Us and our damned little teaspoons." And it keeps me going another day. Elsewhere, Seeger reminded us that “we have to keep using our teaspoons, because the basket does leak.” (2)
Seeger knew - along with so many others before, during, and after his time - that there's always going to be work to do. Activists will always be needed as our society will always need those who point us to a better, more just way of being. The task, then, is maintaining the energy to sustain the work over the long-term. To keep putting sand in that basket, to keep working despite the leakage, and to try to plug the holes as best we can with what we have available to us. It's often a hard, thankless job - but then protest is never welcomed by those in power and who design the baskets in the first place.
What voices are going unheard in your own churches, communities, and personal life? Who can you be listening to that you're not hearing right now? Where can you get plugged in to work toward a more perfect union wherever you are, where everyone is treated equally and the rights of all are honored? How much time do you spend educating yourself on your own privilege and blindspots?
Every generation says this, but we are all aware of how much work there is to do these days. Life is very difficult for a number of people and those who have the ability to pick up a teaspoon are called by God to do so. "To whom much is given, much is required," said Jesus in Luke 12:48 (but there's some more problematic parts of that verse that I won't go into now).
I'm struck these days by how much work there is to do by white folks in addressing racial injustice both in the US and in the UK. The Civil Rights Movement is not history. It is still happening; it never stopped. For white people, it is our job to educate ourselves, our job to speak out and speak up for our neighbors who are being killed and discriminated against, and to act in solidarity with movements like Black Lives Matter. To lift up and amplify the voices of those who are being affected, to face our own privileges and racism, and to join in the struggle in a way that adds strength to the cause rather than trying to subvert or appropriate it.
Those in the US can't help but have heard about Colin Kaepernick's protest over injustice experienced by people of color by refusing to stand for the national anthem at football games. It started in late August and for the first few times, he was alone. Then a few other players on his team and other teams joined him. Then #VeteransforKaepernick started trending on Twitter. Then Megan Rapinoe from the US Women's Soccer team joined him. Then individual members of high school football teams across the nation joined him, and some are being suspended or otherwise punished for doing so. Last night (16 September), the entire team of Garfield High School in the Seattle, Washington area joined him too.
Another post for another day can look at the hyper-nationalism in the US that expects regular pledges of allegiance and certain types of behavior when the flag is flown or the national anthem sung. But for now, what I'm interested in and heartened by is the growth of the movement toward justice, even as we see racism and white supremacy openly raising its ugly head in both the US and UK to such an extent that some haven't seen since the late 1960s or early 1970s.
We're getting more people with teaspoons all the time. Us and our damned teaspoons will win. One day.
Are you in the Teaspoon Brigade? If not, will you join me?
2. Pete Seeger, Foreword to How Can I Keep From Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, Villard, 2008.
If you'd like to make it possible for me to reach out and connect with more communities, you can support my work for as little as $1 per month or whatever you can afford. Support me by going to https://www.patreon.com/JaymeRReaves.