“Love is not something that’s optional. In a time of hate and fear, love is one of the most potent things that we can do in movement building.” -Marianne Manilov
Social change organizer and movement strategist, Marianne Manilov, shares her insights and experiences of approaching large scale activism from a place of love and connection. Hear her talk about what it felt like to be at The March for our Lives, what the Parkland students announced they will focus on now that the march is over, and what action she herself is taking on gun violence. Hear Rosemary refer to Martin Luther King’s words about the importance of being “tough minded and tender hearted” instead of being soft minded and hard hearted. She and Marianne discuss how to find compassion for someone when it’s really hard, and how to get past feelings of contempt by listening deeply so the person feels heard, and looking for points of connection rather than “othering”. Rosemary and Marianne also discuss the importance of healing ourselves first from the inside out, before trying to take action in the outside world. Hear how Marianne learned the difference between being ok and being joyful, and she and Rosemary share their advice on how to change the world and heal yourself at the same time. They talked about how in order to get people to take significant action, they first need to feel deep connection. The takeaway: do something simple and sustainable and connected, and do it in community with people who feel good, because movements are built from the heart.
“I think for a lot of people they get into social change because they have a wound and they don’t want to walk through that wound. But on the other side of that wound is freedom. And when you yourself get free, you realize that your journey is tied to everyone, and that you’re not actually getting anyone free, that we all get free together.” -Marianne Manilov
To learn more about Marianne’s work, visit engagenet.org
Rosemary Pritzker: You’re listening to A Show of Hearts, the podcast about finding the courage to live a deep and magical life. I’m your host, life coach Rosemary Pritzker.
Rosemary Pritzker: (singing)
Rosemary Pritzker: Welcome everyone. Today’s guest, Marianne Manilov, is a social change organizer and movement strategist. 13 years ago she founded The Engage Network which helps organizers build the strong networks and personal relationships necessary for powerful movement building. Marianne has long history of social, political, and environmental activism and organizing that goes back decades. She has deep wisdom to share on what makes an effective movement and how each individual within it can contribute to that effectiveness. When we sat down, she had just come from the March For Our Lives which took place the day before our interview. We started by discussing the overall feeling in the air these days.
Rosemary Pritzker: So there is something happening in our country right now, starting in my eyes on election day where we had this big shock of Trump winning and for me that day I was actually in Peru in the jungle and there was that initial knee jerk shock and … you know. But, pretty much immediately the thought that came to me was this needed to happen because Trump is basically aa virus that’s going to kick up the immune system of our country, because we’ve gotten too complacent. And it seems to me like that is what’s happening right now. Since then, we’ve had the Women’s March, MeToo, and now March For Our Lives. So you were at The March yesterday, could you just share a little bit about sort of what was the feeling in the air? What did it feel like and what did it feel like it meant?
Marianne Manilov: Well, I think the first thing I want to say is that I agree with you that this is a time of enormous change. But, I also think similar to the analogy you used with flu, some people will die. People are being deported and there is enormous chaos and crisis, hopefully not war, but we’re now looking today at a person coming into the White House who has spoken on Fox News in ways that people, if his practice matches his rhetoric, we will go to war. So I think that was one of the feelings of yesterday, which is that there has been a lot of death and harm and that people want it to stop. And the second … And that was very present throughout, there were a lot of people wearing survivor buttons and carrying pictures of people and a lot of tears, and a lot of hugging, and a lot of sense of the pain. And there was also a sense that we were at purpose and about to break through. I was with a team of people, 700 strong, from Chicago and some of them from Florida, and they were chanting “Chicago strong, Chicago strong”.
Marianne Manilov: And I could feel many of these people, mothers, children, who’ve lost over and over, because Chicago is like a war zone, just like Indianapolis, so many of our cities, and you could feel the power literally as we were moving towards the place where there were eventually 800,000 people on the mall, of literally almost when your heart gets really beating fast and there is something strong happening. And then, everyone is feeling it. So you could feel that it was a breakthrough moment, you could feel that our country was going to chance, you could see the different movements coming together, the DREAMers, Black Lives Matter. I saw this one sign that made me pause for a minute, that said, “Student lives matter.” And it’s the coming together of all of these movements that then I don’t think they’ll just break through on gun violence. If you register all of the students who are in high school to vote they’d take over the state. If they’re gong to take over the state, that is going to impact immigration, it’s going to impact the police, it’s going to impact prisons. It’ll impact all of the breaking movements that students care about.
Rosemary Pritzker: Hmm. Yeah. I think when we feel isolated we can forget how powerful we are, and we are so much more powerful when we come together, which is part of why it feels so powerful in a setting like a massive march. I wasn’t there, but I did march when the Eric Garner verdict came out. And that was so powerful, so potent to all those people as far as the eye could see, you know. And there was actually this moment where the organizers somehow super skillfully, all they had was one bullhorn, got everyone, the sea of people, lying down on their backs silent. In the middle of 34th and Broadway I think it was silent. All we could hear was helicopters. There was magic to it, it felt kind of like being in like a church or something like that. And I think that that sense of everyone coming together and sharing in the deep immense emotions around what’s happening, around what happened to Eric Garner, around what happened at Parkland can fuel the resistance, it can help us process so that we then have the strength and the courage to then take the actions that are necessary to cause change.
Rosemary Pritzker: But, what do we do now? Now that the march is over, what’s next?
Marianne Manilov: What I think what you said is deeply important. There was moment yesterday where Emma Gonzalez held silence. And, again, same thing the feeling in the moment in a crowd of 800,000 people in silence was enormous. People were weeping and they didn’t know what she was doing, but she was actually saying this is how long it took to change my life and to take all these lives. And I do think mobilization has a very particular feel to it. Unfortunately, it’s like the difference between. I mean, you and I talk a lot about meditation, but there are ecstatic moments in our life, we were talking about this earlier, where something feels like you’re totally connected and everything is so magical, but most of life isn’t that way and if we’re constantly searching for those moments it would really suck to live the rest of life. And organizing is similar. It’s wonderful that people come in through mobilization, but sometimes I wish they came in through the hard stuff of phone calling and.
Marianne Manilov: And that’s why the connection becomes so important, because not only are you overwhelmed with the issue, but perhaps you came in in a moment of mobilization where it’s one of those connected amazing moments, but the actual doing of organizing, spending all day in a car and going to lobby or writing a letter, these are not particularly. It’s kind of what Jack Kornfield says like, “And then the laundry.” These are laundry tasks. So how we bring about love and connection, and I’m most worried about connection, because what you felt in that moment was the sense of possibility, of breakthrough, and connection. And then, you go home and you’ve got this practice that’s alone and like doing the laundry, and of course you don’t stay in it. And most of the breakthroughs, I was listening to some of the, again, journalists this morning analyzing, and they were talking about the 10 years between these kinds of moments and when the change actually happens: civil rights, different places. Like the moment that Rosa Parks sat down to the actual legislation was 10 years.
Marianne Manilov: And I thought, “Oh, not another 10 years on this.” And I don’t know. I think things are happening faster today because of social media and a lot of other things, but I do know that what comes next is we have to dedicate to being in the practice, and similar to anything, doing that alone really sucks. So I’m going to focus on the don’t do it alone, because I know that if people do it alone their chances of staying in it for the amount of time we need, for the scale we need, to have the change happen are low. So I’m really focused on connect, have, you know, be with people you love, because I know then, and do something that’s maintainable, 15 minutes, an hour, whatever that is. It’s more important that you’re like, “I’m going to commit for a decade,” than you burn yourself out by organizing 40 hours a week for two months.
Rosemary Pritzker: We talked about how some of the Parkland students were brand new to organizing after being suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. They began taking action the day after the shooting, and the march happened just six weeks later. For frontline organizers to speak publicly so soon after a shooting and to organize something so massive that quickly was unprecedented. I was wondering what their long term plan is now that the march is over. Marianne said that part of their post march strategy is to focus on what they call REV (Register, Educate, and Vote).
Marianne Manilov: So the millennial group, if it registers in Florida, will control Florida. And that’s true they can swing elections in most of the swing states. So on Thursday an organizer of the walkouts told me there were two million students that walked out in over 6000 schools and they’re not done counting. So just of the people who walked out, but at many schools, right, students want to walk out, so it’s going to be what does that translate into in registration? And then, registration is one thing, the turnout has been the challenge. So I do believe there are really creative and they’ll use mobile ways to do that. And there is real strategic possibility, I’m really thankful even though they will come up with other strategies that they need, that they focused on this particular one. And I think it’s achievable by midterms. So I do think you’re seeing a sense of power and strategy that’s possible and probable.
Rosemary Pritzker: It seems to like this shift away from “Oh, bad things are happening, someone else will take care of it,” to “Oh, yeah, this is a country by of and for the problem. I am the people. We are the people.” So once we have that realization or once any of us decides we want to step up and do something more than we have been doing, how do we find the courage to do that?
Marianne Manilov: Wow, that’s a good question. I think it’s a practice. Anything in my life that’ve done where I have done change, even if it’s something simple like going to the gym regularly, the change didn’t happen where all of a sudden I was a regular person meditating or going to the gym, or anything healthy. So I think organizing is a practice. It’s sometimes really easy in these mobilization moments to come out to a march or to get involved, but the staying power of having a long term practice, even when it’s ugly, even when you don’t want to, and to do that in a sustainable balanced way, really, especially when on this particular issue, gun violence, they’re up against enormous, enormous power in the NRA.
Rosemary Pritzker: Throughout this whole thing, I keep coming back to various words of Martin Luther King, because that’s whose words speak to me the most, particularly during this time of, like, the age of Parkland. So in his book Strength To Love, in the very beginning of it he talks about the importance of being tough minded and tender hearted instead of being soft minded and hard hearted. And I think that that distinction is really important, and I think that that the idea of being tough minded and tender hearted is a beautiful, powerful concept, and yet can be so hard to achieve when up against something like the NRA.
Marianne Manilov: I think that’s true. I think we also teach organizing of the mind when we know that movements are built from the heart. Dr. King spoke a lot about the beloved community and I think I have been to so many organizing meetings in my life that have no love in them. And that isn’t where we need to be. I very much worry about organizers who can’t turn it off or who are in spaces of anger instead of love. Not that you can never be angry, of course, you can be angry for a long time, but you can’t sustain anger for a year without it doing harm to your body. So you’ve got to find practices. You know, I always say to people, “You meditate, you do all this stuff.” I’m like, right. If I was an Olympic runner and I didn’t run, you would be like, “Well, you really can’t run the Olympics.” And you cannot dedicate a decade or two decades to working on deep social change and systemic issues without doing that work. It’s not possible to do that in a healthy way.
Marianne Manilov: So I worry about how do we train people who are coming into this. I mean, all of those kids are going to, or they have PTSD, right. So how do we make sure that we have those systems in place that help people to process through their past trauma, which they bring into the movement? And to do things sustainably in a way where they can stay truly present and open hearted and take breaks, because the way that you’re going to make the change is to commit for a decade. There have been enormous amounts of people who have come in who’ve never been involved and even though they thought they were going to go home, they’re still here. My biggest fear about the Parkland students is not that they will stop, my biggest fear about the Parkland students is that they won’t stop. They’re going to need somehow even in this bright of a spotlight to find ways even to, you know, like they say in the airlines, to give-
Rosemary Pritzker: Oxygen mask.
Marianne Manilov: Oxygen mask to each other, to take some breaks and some healing and other things. And it’s not to say that they’re not getting healed along the way, right. It’s not a one thing or another. There is healing in finding your purpose. On the other hand, talking to people like Pamela Bosley who gets up every day and had her son taken from her in a church parking lot in Chicago, she says, “Everyday I think of Terrell, how do I not think of Terrell.” She found the group Purpose Over Pain. He died in 2006. And so she is an early leader in the gun violence movement and these mothers come together, and heal each other, and she’s talked about wanting to take her own life. So they really bonded to find this and then also come together to help each other, and to heal each other, and then to take action. But, do you really get healed when your child is taken from you? I mean, I think part of the way you do that is through dedication and commitment to others and to holding on to each other.
Marianne Manilov: In any situation where people have really deeply been traumatized, whether that’s prison or whatever it is, that people can come together and heal by shared experience and by literally being in deep circle. There is so much circling happening at this time, people doing just deep listening to each other and gathering, and there is a lot of aloneness. So it’s these two things happening at once and it’s almost like which way are we going to choose? Are we going to choose hate and fear? Are we going to choose love and connection? And it feels like this choice is pretty stark, and we’re going to have to have conversations in all of these, many of these places, with people that we can’t name as other.
Rosemary Pritzker: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Just reminds me of Martin Luther King said something about it’s really hard to persuade someone when they can feel your underlying contempt. And there is so much contempt on both sides and in the middle all around on multiple issues that we’re dealing with here, but especially on the gun violence now. How do we get past that contempt and talk to each other?
Marianne Manilov: I think, I mean, some of my greatest fear of this time is actually the hatred that the progressive movement has towards Trump, because the way that a lot of the solutions that I’m looking at are how do we step away from fear and anger permanently and get others to do that? And we are stepping really towards fear and anger. So and one of my mentors, Mel King, who was one of the first Black people to run for office in Boston, Boston Civil Rights leader, he said to me, “No one will ever change who you don’t love.” And it’s been an incredible journey for me to actually be able to live that and often times I can’t exactly live it, but I know that to be true, what you said, you can’t sit there and not really deeply feel someone. I saw definitely, again, on the news this morning some gun violence survivors who are in Arizona, students talking to each other and finding space, but I am very concerned about the hatred of people towards Trump voters and in just in general the othering that we’re seeing in the progressive movement because we’re beginning to pick up a tactic that has been used and will continue to be used to really separate us and to break our issues. And that’s not how we’ll get out of it.
Rosemary Pritzker: It seems to me like that’s how we find a way to come together with the people on the supposed other aside of the aisle is finding other things to talk to them about and connect with them about, so that both sides can start to how human the other is before getting into the, quote, “real” issue. And I think that one person who publicly has been doing a really good job of bringing people together in these dialogues of course is our friend Van, Van Jones.
Marianne Manilov: That’s very true.
Rosemary Pritzker: You know, that’s one of the main things he’s been doing on CNN ever since the election really is bringing people together on opposite sides of the aisle and he himself speaking in a way that is calm and levelheaded and really trying to understand. We all need to find it in us to do that and to not act with contempt when we’re trying to have these conversations.
Marianne Manilov: There is a lot of research behind what Van did. The people who lost Prop 8 on gay marriage came together over a decade ago and they began to have conversations with the people who voted against them. And over a decade they founded this body of research out of this thing called the Learning Lab, which was the LGBT center in LA, and the thing that I’ve thrown down on since the election is this group that we just launched this week called The New Conversations Initiative. I think I thought I was going to be sort of on the border, but as I have bene looking more and more into the research over the year and we were doing tests what I found was that it’s really a spiritual practice that they teach leaders, and they use this on thousands of leaders to win the four initiatives that won on gay marriage. And they have tested it on immigration, and race, and trans rights. Actually in Miami in the Cuban community there on trans rights is one of the deepest pieces of research.
Marianne Manilov: And a lot of, again I’m not the team and I’m not the researchers, but what I’m understanding is that what they teach the canvassers is to go and really listen with an open heart and to have that person share a story and connect to the emotions. So on gay marriage they were trying to do you know a gay person? On trans, of course not a lot of people in the Cuban community in Miami know a trans person, but they have had the experience of having someone not like them because of who they are. So they find an emotive connection and get that person talking and telling their story. And this is actually, I mean, university level research what changes people, and they have now trained people at scale. So this is what I’ve decided to throw down on. I think there is a model to train thousands of leaders. It’s great that we win in Pennsylvania where in something is blue when we really mobilize voters, whether that’s predominately, of course, Black voters are the people giving some of these wins.
Marianne Manilov: And I would love to train a thousand people to go into the next door districts that are red and to have these kinds of conversations. And one of the things is that you don’t try and change the person’s mind in front of them, that you’re listen more than you talk, that you do so with an open heart and you’re looking for that emotive connection. And we went and met with the University of Pennsylvania who is interested in doing some work with us. A friend of mine, who is a dean there, and he said this is very similar what they do in ethnographic research, that actually if people talk for a long time they start changing themselves. And I really think what you’re creating is a space where people can be open hearted and perhaps they find that change within themselves, but, of course, this changes. The leaders who ran this effort on gay marriage, they said it changes them, it changes the canvassers or changes the leaders as much as it changes the people who you’re in dialogue with.
Marianne Manilov: And that’s what I want to see at scale, that’s my belief in change. And so I admire so much what Van has done, and I want thousands and thousands of people to be able to do that, to be able to download a conversation on Google, and have a conversation with their family on race. So that’s what we’re bringing the team together to do and that’s what I’ve been working on this year.
Rosemary Pritzker: How do we choose love and connection when it’s really hard?
Marianne Manilov: The way that I do it is by breathing and by being in community. I won’t take anything I’m building like this new thing we’re in a team. Black lives matter has a saying, “Move at the speed of trust,” we literally sit and like, “What are you feeling on this decision?” And we’ve been moving really slowly and being really clear about how we’re rooted. And how that makes me feel is it makes me feel safe enough that when something comes up that’s hard, I can be authentic and I can say I’m afraid and I can breathe through it. And somehow when I’m together I drop into my body, I can feel a sense of connection, and I know more that even in the long-term that I have to stand and be not afraid and be connected. So it’s not just, you know, are we loving in the face of and not othering people? I mean, I have to confess I do not love Trump. I think I’m in an avoidance stance, I don’t post about him on Facebook, you know. I am not, I can’t find a space to say that I love that person at all. So rather than hate, I’m avoiding and putting my energy behind finding powerful voices.
Rosemary Pritzker: I don’t love Trump the grown up man, but the closest I have been able to come to loving him is imagining him when he was a little boy and whatever it was that happened to him that made him so broken.
Marianne Manilov: What do you imagine it was?
Rosemary Pritzker: Someone having power over him in a way that was not okay, probably his father. Possibly multiple people. I mean, my background is in bullying prevention, so when I look at someone like Trump I think that’s a really broken person. Something-
Marianne Manilov: He’s a bully.
Rosemary Pritzker: Something happened to him. He is a bully now because he probably was a victim originally.
Marianne Manilov: Right. That’s helpful. I mean, it really actually is, because I can’t say that I have found an ounce of compassion so far. But, that’s what you’re saying, what do you when you love? How would you do? You just gave me an example. You try and find compassion for the individual or even, I think the hard thing is when it’s an institution on either side, right. So the police department, how do I find compassion? I mean, in the march there were these police from D.C, these white guys on motorcycles and they were like ready to ride into this crowd of young kids from Chicago. In the moment, I don’t think I found compassion. I mean, I stepped in front of the bike and I, under my breath, said all sorts of things about the police. And then I came back to it later, like “Wow you were really angry in this moment.” But, I can’t say that I have a lot of compassion for the police force is an institution that started, you know, it’s connected to the KKK.
Marianne Manilov: I think there is something for me about the police that’s cumulative. I remember when the whole Black Lives Matter broke, and I was talking to a friend of mine and he’s like, “They’re naming all these names, but there are so names that they’re not naming that we know that were taken by police.” And I think that’s a piece of what I saw yesterday is just the overwhelm of when something happens that’s so systemic over, and over, and over again. And you’re just at the place where you’re not going to take it anymore. And that’s not a particularly compassionate place, but it’s a place of action and breakthrough as well.
Rosemary Pritzker: So this reminds me of my Lama’s story of when he was in prison and having to come to terms with, you know, being ordered around by the Chinese who were imprisoning him and killing, and raping, and pillaging, and destroying his country, his culture, his people. He was thrown in with the worst offenders, in the Chinese eyes, which was all the religious people. So he was in there with like the highest lamas and was able to get really powerful instruction that he actually wouldn’t have gotten otherwise if that hadn’t happened. He was young, 14 or younger. He had already been recognized as a lama before that and had to hide it, and practice in caves, and whatever so the Chinese wouldn’t catch him. But so he is in prison young and he started getting really angry at the Chinese early on, like really angry. I mean, how could you not? You’re imprisoned by these people, watching them do horrible things. And his lama one day was like, “You got to stop … ” You know, like you can’t, that’s not how it works.
Rosemary Pritzker: And he slowly managed to help him turn it around by, A), seeing it as an opportunity to dive really deep into himself and do his own really deep work, and also to have compassion for the Chinese because of how much really horrible karma they were racking up for themselves. So I feel like if my Lama was able to come to a place of having compassion for the people imprisoning him, and destroying his culture, and killing his people, it just that story has stuck with me as an example of okay it’s always possible even when it’s really, really hard.
Marianne Manilov: And it is. And I think for people like you and I who see practice as part of the journey of social change, I think the challenge comes when we’re building a movement and people come into a meeting and there is someone really triggered or upset, and that person has no intention of getting healed. So I think that’s the challenge is in our movements when we’re talking about millions of people that have to be mobilized to do systemic change is not everyone has a practice or intention of healing, and for some people when we’re coming into circle with them that’s not gong to happen. So how we prepare for that and as circles of people even allow some of the anger also? I mean, particularly black women in this country, they have a right to be angry for a long time. So I think then the question is how do we navigate that within our movements? And that’s a harder space, it is. I have seen it done well. And it’s different than individual change, it’s collective change.
Marianne Manilov: And I also think it’s powerful if we can be in circle with each other and then we bring somebody else in, right, awe can. But, the circles that I want to create in my life, I want to be with people who are healed and who are in process. When I’m doing work with broader groups, sometimes that’s true and sometimes that’s not. If I’m dealing with a thousand leaders it’s not like everyone is going home every night and meditating. And most of the communities that are directly impacted by the systemic stuff in our society are traumatized. So I do think we have to look at really trauma practices in our movement building. It’s an emerging thing, I think people are, but it isn’t as broad as it needs to be for us to get to where we need to go.
Rosemary Pritzker: Where do we need to go?
Marianne Manilov: We need to go into places where we can be in circle and in community where we’re healed. And luckily I have been parts of groups, I have seen that. I look at the national domestic workers alliance where they are really looking all of their leaders and giving them embodied training and I think there are places that were doing that. And just like it became a practice to build a website or it became a practice to think about how we move people from email to active on the ground, it’s going to have to become a practice how we deal with triggers, how we deal with trauma. Most of the people who are deciding to take action, many of them have been traumatized. So for us to have no plan or no skills building, it’d be like, “Oh, go build a website, Rose. Let’s see. You’ve never done that before, okay. Let’s not give you anything to do that with.” No one to mentor you, nothing to help you. You wouldn’t be able to do it.
Marianne Manilov: Yet consistently we say to really traumatized people, “Come into the movement. Just do what we tell you.” And we have no skills or tools to navigate that. Well, that’s not, that’s just not going to work. We have to have communities that are able to heal.
Rosemary Pritzker: Was there a moment when you as an organizer realized that you needed to do inner work?
Marianne Manilov: Well, I didn’t realize it, but the people around me told me that I was messed up. So I think it happen in two stages. The first was when I was a fairly young organizer and I started my first non-profit. And I had a high donor named Peter Buckley and he wanted me to take three months off. And I used to get mad at him and get so triggered by him. And he said I want you to learn to meditate and not go off into the jungle on some human rights thing. And I think I cried for the first three weeks of those three months. And then, I learned to meditate and I learned the difference between being okay and being joyful. And it was one of the greatest gifts that anyone ever gave me, but he literally forced me to take a sabbatical. And then, the second person was Taj James who there was a period of time where I sort of othered some people in organizing where I would say, “Oh, that person doesn’t know, or.” And he kept saying this is all part of your family and really encouraged me to get and do my inner work. I mean, I’m still a work in progress.
Rosemary Pritzker: You said something about joy a minute ago. Why is it important to have joy in our lives especially as organizers?
Marianne Manilov: Well, I think in organizing you can get into a place and it doesn’t have to only be in organizing, you can get into a place where you’re constantly looking at the sorrow and the pain of others, and that also takes you away from the present moment in yourself, so you never have to look at your own pain, right. Somebody else is always in more pain, there is always a world crisis that you can jump into. And as crazy as it sounds, the only way you can have inner joy in your own life is walk through your own pain. So I think for a lot of people they get into social change because they have a wound and they don’t want to walk through that wound. But, on the other side of that wound is freedom. And when you yourself get free, you realize that your journey is tied to everyone and that you’re not actually getting anyone free, that we all get free together, and that that’s a practice. And I think there can be an othering in, “Oh let me help these poor people,” or whatever that is, instead of really seeing your freedom as tied up with someone as integral to each other. And I think that also comes from deep inner practice. And then, you really want everyone to get free.
Rosemary Pritzker: If you love what you’re hearing in this episode, subscribe, give a five-star rating, and write a review in iTunes, and then share it with someone you know will love it too.
Rosemary Pritzker: Marianne and I met right around the time she was founding The Engage Network 13 years ago. We formed a bond almost immediately and she is still one of my closest girl friends.
Rosemary Pritzker: You and I have known each other a long time and when we first met, I was really sick and you were one of the people that was able to actually really show up for me in a way that was helpful and much needed, in a way that most people didn’t know how, because of your own experiences. How did you learn how to show up for someone in crisis?
Marianne Manilov: I think learning to truly show up and care deeply for people is a process. I think first when we’re in crisis, sometimes the people who show up for us are meant to show up for us to heal themselves, so being around you there was something that was very healing for me that was also going on. So it was mutual. And I was with someone today who I had mentored when she was younger. When my brother took his life, she called me and she said, “give me the hardest thing you have.” I mean, I hadn’t really been that in touch with her and I gave her finding the funeral arrangements because of the way the body was it was a very difficult task. And she managed with this grace and beauty, and like it changed everything that I felt about her. But, earlier in her life, 19 years ago, her fiance was murdered in a political situation in Latin America when he was caring for the U’wa people and we believe was murdered as part of the, you know, oil companies. He was murdered with two others.
Marianne Manilov: It was an international incident and I saw that at the time more political. I don’t think I showed up at her house, I can’t remember. So it just shows you that in one moment, right, somebody could be really caring because that’s the space they’re in. And other times maybe for someone else they don’t show up and that’s the hardest thing for me when I’ve gone through crisis is, and I can’t say I have done it well, is to not judge people who don’t show up who I’m close to. And I think it’s a mixture of things. One, you want to have a community of care of people where that sort of that is the agreement beyond your family. And to have those conversations explicitly and then I do think there is some beauty and spirit about it that some people come towards you and some people don’t. And the hard thing I actually think is to know that it’s in some sort of divine order the people who come towards you.
Marianne Manilov: But, I can’t say that I didn’t end a single friendship over people who didn’t come towards me during my brother’s death, because that wouldn’t be true. It did change how I feel about people. It changed how I felt about you. I can remember you came towards me. There are words and things and practices in my body that I got because you gave them to me in a time of such trauma that they sunk in in a way I don’t think that they would have, and they become part of my life. So I think community of care is both a practice, it’s a request, and it’s something that we have to do in a time when we’re feeling more and more isolated and alone and our institutions, our churches, our mosques, our different places are not holding us together in the way they used to or we’re not attending or whatever that is.
Rosemary Pritzker: I remember not long after we met when I had moved to San Francisco, I was really sick. I felt so alone and then New Year’s happened and I was riddled with anxiety because of what was going in my body, the anxiety was just there no mater what I did and I couldn’t get away from it. And I felt so alone and I didn’t know what to do, and you invited me to this thing in Oakland with all these people. And it was such a warm, loving, sweet environment. And I don’t remember a lot of what happened, but I just remember you being really present with me without trying to fix anything. And just that alone was what I needed and helped so much. It was like I was able to like kind of relax.
Marianne Manilov: It’s interesting because I feel like I didn’t have that practice then. And the thing that I learned from the trauma of my brother’s suicide is really exactly that, that there are times when people just need someone to sit next to them and not even try and get them to stand up again because they can’t stand. And the presence of love is incredibly important, just presence. And like I said I also think there was just some connection between us where we could show up for each other and that’s a gift that happens in friendship, and in families, and in communities. And this is tied to our political moment, because so much of what’s happening is around fear, aloneness, anger, the sense that we’re not going to be okay because of what’s happening in our economy and what’s happening in the world. And so when we have lost these social ties or the sense of being truly with us it enables political systems that are much more fascist, it enables policies and practices that make people into other.
Marianne Manilov: And so it’s not just do we have a network of people that will truly be there for us, which is super important just in itself, right. To feel okay. It’s also when we build deep ties how that allows us to be a society and a democracy that can hold everyone.
Rosemary Pritzker: Yes. So I’m just thinking about that idea of when we form strong bonds with people that we’re in whatever trenches with, that becomes the foundation from which big actions, immense strength, etc., can come in the face of all kinds of things. Do you have any stories along those lines from your life?
Marianne Manilov: I think that what we see in movements is both deep ties and deep vision. And for me, one of the pivotal movements that I got to work with is Walmart workers. What was so pivotal about that for me was that most of the people who stood up to even make a small change in their store, like ask for more part-time hours or anything, were fired. And in the world when you’re a Walmart worker, who is the biggest employer in the United States, if you stand up and speak back and you’re fired, that also means that you might lose your grocery mean, it might mean that you lose your housing, so it has a high cost. And the reason that you’re going to do that is both because it’s unfair, but most of the people that I would meet, Walmart workers, they would stay that they were standing up for somebody else, for somebody who was elder in the store, somebody who wasn’t okay.
Marianne Manilov: One of the most popular things that went through the network really strongly for example was a guy in Florida who was an elderly man and had pain in his legs, and was a greeter, and wanted a stool by the door, and Walmart wouldn’t give it to him. And it went like fire through the national network, because there are many people who are elderly and even grandfathers, fathers, mothers working there, and just the inhumanity of it. Another part of the network was mothers who were pregnant who were lifting heavy items and having miscarriages in the store who came together and changed that policy and they also sued. And I think for me what I saw in that was a network of people who dug in and really loved each other at a level across religion, across race, across gender, across all sorts of lines. And the moment I knew in the Walmart movement that it was going to make history, which it did, it won a billion dollars for a half million workers, and new policies on pregnancy, and new policies on part-time workers.
Marianne Manilov: The moment I knew that the Walmart workers were going to make history was really this moment when there was a Christian worker from Texas who was black who wrote a note on Facebook, I guess a lot of the workers were keeping in touch during the day over Facebook and private groups, but he wrote a note to one of the guy that was sort of running the LGBT circle, and of course as a born-again Christian, LGBT that isn’t a border that you would normally see cross. One was black, one was white. And he wrote a note just saying, “I love you pookie.” And I remember taking a screenshot of it and thinking this love has crossed so many places, and it’s so deep because they know what they face. At Walmart if you want to get a second job you can’t do it, because at night if you ask for only daytime or only night time hours, and you want to go to school, if you’re not available all the hours, they cut your hours. So it’s just an impossible situation that forces people to stay in poverty, and it’s our largest employer.
Marianne Manilov: So it’s very helpless. And most of the people there are on stamps. So it’s a really difficult situation, and to have that kind of love, to see people who are seeing each other as leaders, and to see people who are constantly telling each other how much they see the greatness in each other was a big piece of what built that movement.
Rosemary Pritzker: In the process of creating Engage, Marianne studied many different networks made up of small groups. Then, she used that information to create her own small group curriculum that helps them find their purpose, bond with each other, and take action together on an issue they care about so that everyone becomes a leader. This curriculum can be used in virtually any movement across a spectrum of issues such as yoga studios and yoga related service projects, the Slow Food movement, Walmart workers, and others. When she engages with one of these movements, she begins by listening deeply to the network of leaders and then helping them come together to create what they want to take on. Then she gathers the tech and field organizers to do those things together, so that their efforts are both online and on the ground. We talked about how in order to get people to take significant action, they first need to feel deep connection, which is why she studied long-term circles.
Marianne Manilov: I look at each network with a beginner’s mind and trying to see who is here, how are they already connecting, where there is already love, and how does that guide me to build more? When I came into the Walmart workers network, what I really did was look at what they were already inclined to do and then we tried to build more of that. I do think that I mostly looked and tried to listen and see what was truly transformative already and then to build more of that.
Rosemary Pritzker: So what was it like going into the Saddleback Church and what were you doing there?
Marianne Manilov: Well, we didn’t just go into Saddleback, we went into several megachurches around the country to learn why people were really, and how they were structured to be mobilized to be really engaged in something larger than themselves. And what we found is that in these big evangelical churches the way that people connected was more in a small group. So what we saw at the time was these two models particularly, Saddleback was one of the churches. And they had a model where they just said we’re going to put everyone in small groups and some of those small groups will fail, but we’re going to start moving them through sort of how to be together. And Saddleback has broken up and has like 22 services between Friday night and Sunday where you could be part of the Hawaiian group, or you could play part of the singles group, or you could be part of sort of the deep bible group and all of these are different small groups that are cultural groups. And then, you’re also part of the larger church.
Marianne Manilov: And the movement has a lot to learn from that. And there was another church in Chicago called Willow Creek that had the opposite model where it would really train its leaders for a long time and then put into small circles where they would deeply be responsible for people’s journeys. And within that there were other people, churches that we studied, sort along a spectrum. And I think that’s an interesting question. Do you just allow people to naturally come from online on to the ground and are they going to be engaged? And some of that will fail, we see that a lot of times when people come out and they start their own events or whatever that is some of those groups stay together and others don’t. And really our theory was that people could go as far as the small in the small circle as their leader will go. And so there is some real connection between leader networks and depth of community. So how people can hold space for each other, what skills they have.
Marianne Manilov: And I think studying the megachurch has allowed me to see different models of that, but you can also see it in book clubs, in AA groups, right. Why do some AA groups go on for 25 years and others last for two months and they go under? It’s the same cuticulum. Why do some book groups, they’ve been together and those people are there for each other and their lives? It’s way more than book groups, or even the groups that do floats for example in New Orleans, they were some of the first responders to Katrina, some of the most tied together groups who build floats every year. So we really see that a depth of community makes a huge difference in how people stay together and I would say how they also do political organizing. And since there isn’t a big effort to build depth of community and depth of understanding that we do generally in movement building, some groups do it, it’s a big problem because isolation and fear allows for people to be separated and for policies and systems to continue that harm our communities.
Rosemary Pritzker: I asked Marianne about Jeremy Pastor, an activist who had an enormous impact on her life. He was one of the founders of Burma Humanitarian Mission. A human rights and advocacy organization focused on providing medical services and education in Burma. Jeremy and Marianne also worked closely with an organization called EarthRights International, founded by a Burmese man named Ka Hsaw Wa. A member of the Karen ethnic group and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize and the Reebok Human Rights award.
Marianne Manilov: One of the people who had a great influence on teaching me to become a leader who puts care and love at the center of what they do is an organizer named Jeremy Pastor, who died of prostate cancer. But, we went into Burma together when I had been working with EarthRights and wanted to learn more about the frontline people struggle with a group of backpacking medics to bring medical supplies to people who, indigenous people who were being threatened by war and we literally trekked into Burma by boat and by foot through the mountain ranges. And it was very emotionally, and physical, and spiritual trip for me. It was enormously difficult. And Jeremy walked behind me, he was sort of talking to me through some of what I was seeing and some of you know the pain of what was in these villages and we would have to meet outside, and literally in the dark, and people were getting medical care. And there was also we had to run, there was armed situations going on there. And he really walked me through it and helped me.
Marianne Manilov: When we came back to the United States, I went into the hospital with dysentery, and he went into a different hospital and they told him that actually he had no blood in his body and he was quite sick. We couldn’t figure it out. I mean, we had been on this trekking up and down these mountains. It turned out he had this rare form of cancer. And he fought a really hard fight, but died two years later. And in the journey towards his death he taught me a lot about, there was a community of people who came together to take care of him. And it taught me about deep care and he also really wanted me to believe in life after death. I didn’t at the time, I thought, you know, when we die that was it. He would say to me like, “You need to believe in life after death.” And I said, “Well, you know, you can come back or whatever.” And he said, “I will.” And we would have sort of a joking bet, and I said to him “Don’t come back in my dreams and disturb me.” And he said, “Okay. I won’t,” he said, “I’ll bring you people.” People that were born on my birthday, because his wife was as well.
Marianne Manilov: He also was like, “And I’m going to force you to be involved in this Free Tibet movement,” because, at that year the Chinese Olympics was coming to San Francisco, and he really wanted me and a bunch of people to do a protest. And I was like there are a 100 people who want to care for you and do stuff, like why me? There is a lot of the Free Tibet people, it’s just not my issue. And after he passed, I went to this screen for all launch. Van Jones was starting an organization and at the end of that three day conference, Majora Carter, who is a very famous black environmental justice organizer, came up to me and said, “I’m coming to San Francisco next week, and I need your help.” And she said, “I don’t know why you, but something just said that to me.” And I said, “Okay.” She said, “I’m coming to San Francisco because I am an Olympic torch bearer.’ And I said, ‘Okay”. She said, “I’m an Olympic torch bearer for Coca-Cola,” and she said, “The first time they called me I said, ‘no’. The second time they called me, I said, ‘I already said no.’ And the third time they called me I thought there might be some people that I was meaning to speak for. So I have decided to be an Olympic torch bearer and to pull out a Tibet flag as a protest. And I need your help”
Marianne Manilov: And I literally looked up and said under my breath, I think I said, “Fuck you,” and she said, “What did you say?” And I really knew that Jeremy had set it up. So she came and we did this massive protest that was on the international news. And Chinese paramilitary knocked her down. It was incredible, but I spend like days with her and we even put on the press leads release contact Jeremy Pastor. And a part of me was thinking he was sending me a message, but another part was like, “Hmm”. And so about two months later I was writing in my journal. You know, this doesn’t mean that he can communicate with me, because who knows? And that day Majora’s husband called me and said, “Marianne we just Facebook friended you, and we are coming your way in about a few weeks. We would like to have dinner, but the strangest thing when we joined you on FB we noticed that you share a birthday, you and Majora were both born on the same day.”
Marianne Manilov: For me, I know that Jeremy and since that time I feel like I cannot just communicate or hear Jeremy but hear others. And I think as you’ve said. And there are many cultures this is something and the connection not just to each other but to people who are in our past and to our elders who are constantly around us. And actually that’s what most cultures have. We have lost al of that connection. It’s the connection to our root that holds us, to everyone who is ever been part of our life or part of our journey and to each other, that’s a lot of loss, no wonder why we feel so sad and alone all the time.
Rosemary Pritzker: Well, Chartwell Dutiro, my mbira mentor from Zimbabwe, I did an interview with Chartwell that’s going to come out soon in which he talks about this about how in his culture that Shona tribe of Zimbabwe, the mbira’s purpose is to call on the ancestors. And they believe that we’re surrounded by our ancestors all the time, they’re still there. They don’t have bodies anymore, but they’re still here, and they’re trying to help us, guide us etc. And if we don’t communicate, then we’re going to end up having a lot of problems. I think that that’s a belief that a lot of other indigenous cultures have a similar belief around that like not knowing who your ancestors were and having some kind of relationship with them is like not going to bode well. You need them. We need each other. We need our family. We need our ancestors.
Marianne Manilov: I agree. I think we’ve gone to an extreme of disconnection that is literally making us spiritually sick and I think it’s also making us politically sick. And whether that’s othering Trump voters or othering each other even thinking, “Oh that person doesn’t understand me,” and not really taking the time to work through it. It’s a big challenge in our time. I think we’re in a time in our country where we’re having a hard time understanding that there really is a big economic shift, that a lot of people are in poverty and they’re very hungry. And so instead of joining together collectively to look at things like local economy or guaranteed income, there is a story in America that everyone is on their own and if they just work hard enough they will make it. And it’s not a true story. And instead of saying we need to shift our story, we’re spiritually sick because we want to look away, we want to pretend that it’s not happening and so instead we just say that everyone is alone. And then even people who have enough are hurting because somehow we’re not all trying to get free together and there is something that we know is not right about that. We know it.
Marianne Manilov: And it can’t be that there is one group of people working at google and Facebook 90 hours a week and trading in their lives so they can be millionaires and open foundations and have private planes. And then, another group of people that’s working at Walmart and doesn’t have enough groceries for their kids, and that’s our country. I think both sides know that that they’re sick. And there is some way that we need to come together and fix that. And instead of doing that, we’re having some … We’re seeing the fear side. And in the election of President Trump and the othering side. And everyone is othering everyone. And I’m hoping that what comes next is the love side, at least I’m going to try and be part of that movement for love.
Rosemary Pritzker: How do we do that? What does that look like?
Marianne Manilov: I think it looks like a million things. It looks like as simple as people bringing each other soup. It looks like noticing where in our communities there are people in poverty and maybe deciding to be in that space with each other. I think it looks like big things like the student movement that came together on gun violence since the shooting in Parkland that’s willing to be connected to Black Lives Matter, to immigration, to all of these issues. It’s all intertwined. So the challenge becomes how can you do some things simple, local, and sustainable with a group of people you love? And if that’s the only question you ask, how do I do something that I’m called to do, that’s simple and sustainable and helps in a way that I see is connected to building more love and connection, then that has to be the practice. We just need to be in a space where we understand that love is not something that’s optional. In a time of hate and fear, love is one of the most potent things that we can do in movement building.
Marianne Manilov: It isn’t to say you shouldn’t be making the phone calls or knocking on doors, it’s to say you should be doing that with people you really love.
Rosemary Pritzker: To learn more about Marianne, visit her website Engagenet.org. The link is in the show notes.
Rosemary Pritzker: Thank you for listening to A Show of Hearts. If you enjoyed what you heard, please subscribe on iTunes and share it with your favorite people. Visit our website ashowofhearts.com where you can sign up for emails and explore all our episodes in depth. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @ashowofhearts. Remember to choose courage even when it’s scary. And join me in igniting the world with our hearts.
Rosemary Pritzker: (singing)