What is it to be our own collective moral compass?
In her words at the Women's March on Washington D.C., J. Bob Alotta, Ex. Director of the Astrea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, warned of an instinct that might arise in us, or a pressure that might be applied on we who chose to gather at the Women’s Marches (and those who would have but couldn’t), as the political climate becomes increasingly intolerant of us in our diversities. We may be inclined to divide ourselves up into factions, into parts of the whole, into woman but not queer woman, into woman but not black woman. We may become inclined to turn against or to separate out from those who are in this moment neighbor-allies. We may put the pressure on one another to do this.
We, the we who came out in the hundred of thousands for the Women’s Marches, the we with multifaceted identifies and agendas, individually and collective, we will have to daily choose to stay whole. To refuse to only bring a part our individual self to the table, or a part of our collective force.
“We will need to become our own collective moral compasses,” she urged. “We will need to become our own north star.”
What does this look like? How does such a diverse body of people create a collective moral compass?
Religions have long housed the moral formation of a society and its individuals. Our religious institutions are no longer depended upon for this formation. Identification with an organized body of religion is down significantly, and increasingly so among the younger generations. This decline has many aspects and interpretations. Within the context of Alotta’s speech, one such interpretation is that our religious institutions have themselves asked us (though they may at heart suggest otherwise) to deny significant parts our individual and therefore collective selves. There has been a trickle out, a refusal, to depend on these institutions to morally form us in a sense of right and wrong, in an ethic of love.
The None & Some Project has mapped the subtleness of this refusal. In conversation with Philip and with Rob, we heard the tension between the heartbeat of the tradition and how it had been interpreted or stewarded over time in the insistence they each expressed that if you say God loves everyone, then God has to love me too, with my gayness fully intact.
Later in her comments, Alotta offered this potent words: “We will not choose any one person’s notion of god to define every single one of our divine possibilities, and surely not our secular and public rules of law.”
How do we, a diverse people with multiple gods and goddesses and none, become our own collective moral compasses, our own north star?
How do we as a movement, become our own collective moral compass? How do we do this without making idols of ourselves? Allowing there to be room inside the compass?
A way into a response for me has to begin with the body. To be a we means we have multiple bodies. To be our own collective moral compass would be to consider what is needed for the flourishing of multiple bodies, our bodies in their diversity of sexualities, colors, movements. I don’t have an answer to the question of how we do this. But the question itself helps to re-orient us away from past patterns of looking outside ourselves for a moral authority - to a God, to a solitary person, to an institution that we have not shaped but only inherited. What happens if we look to our very lives in our specific living bodies, with their flesh and bones and sexualities and skin tones and muscle masses and differing abilities: how does a collective moral compass arise from us, from the we as bodies?
Here’s the full text of J. Bob Alotta’s speech at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., January 21st, 2017:
"This time is about, what we are going to choose:
…our values and our choices will be tested
we will have to make choices every single day
in the days weeks, months and years to come
we will need to become our own collective moral compasses
we will need to become our own north star
So when you look all around you and are moved all day by the beauty, diversity and passion of all the folks around, remember this:
we chose to come together today in all of our power.
We do not and we will not choose one neighbor over another
We do not and we will not choose to deny our queerness, our lesbian, gay or trans selves, in order to be in a march for women, or in a country for everyone.
We do not and we will not deny the beauty and power and joy in our blackness and brownness as if it will make us any safer or any more sane in a country that has proven otherwise over and over again.
We will not hide behind our whiteness, because of the vestiges of privilege that to this day services a system meant to succeed the will and line the pockets of a few men who’d have us all believe there is superiority in our shade, just to keep us from knowing the power of truly being in righteous community and shared humanity.
We will not choose any one person’s notion of god to define every single one of our divine possibilities, and surely not our secular and public rules of law.
We will not choose some of our rights over all of our rights.
Because we choose to know better, to do better, to be better and to love better...
What do you need with a big old queer like me?
I think it is to talk about radical love.
To stand here on this stage right now and proclaim my commitment to love in the most radically honest way possible. For us all, right now to commit to doing so.
So let me queer our collective notion of love right now:
so that every one of us will step past the easy, the scripted, the societally sanctioned, the safe, the familiar notions of love and let us chose the pathways to not only the greatest possibility but the greatest reward.
We are not a fluke. This is not a singular phenomenon. We are fantastic and fabulous. And this is only the beginning.
This is not a one off. This is an uprising. This is an uprising of love.
We are an uprising of love….
Chose it every day.”