Last month, we celebrated our 44th anniversary in the cheerful company of friends and allies. The night was filled with vivid images and ideas about the beauty and hardships involved in the fight for social justice. Inspired by the historic Caldwell/Jorgenson climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite earlier this year, we reflected on our collective journey as we climb together – one step at a time – towards the mountaintop envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Invoked that night were analogies representing the profound pain we experience when we falter during our climb. The pain of seeing our schools chronically underfunded, the pain of seeing rising rents erode away entire ethnic neighborhoods, and the pain we feel when men of color, especially black youth, continue to die at the hands of law enforcement.
But we also reconnected with the magnificent beauty available to us from higher ground. Such as witnessing low-income families and workers organize to hold the powerful accountable. Or seeing immigrant families throughout California overcome their fear, find their voice, and now watchdog school districts as they implement a new school funding law that will benefit their children.
Together, these experiences make up our journey as we move ever closer to the mountaintop.
Reflecting on the celebration afterwards, Tom Hayden noted how “humans are born with the instinct to climb, especially mountains. Despite the many risks involved, like being killed or injured, we are driven to experience the sublime and the majestic that is only available ten or thirty thousand feet up in the air.”
The willingness to risk it all in order to reach the mountaintop reminded me of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s personal letters to his mother when the Argentine revolutionary attempted and failed to scale Popocapetetl, a volcano near Mexico City in 1955.
I took El Popo by assault, but despite much heroism, I was unable to reach the top. I was ready to die for it, but my Cuban climbing companion scared me because two of his toes froze… We spent six hours fighting the snow that buried us to our waist, and with feet totally drenched since we lacked the proper equipment. The guide got lost in the fog skirting a crevasse, and we were exhausted from the soft and unending snow. [A]s soon as I have some money, I will challenge the Popo again ….
Che never did. But he didn’t stop climbing, did he? Neither will we.