No Known Restrictions: Ben Campbell, Steamboat, ca. 1852-1860 by Unknown (LOC)

Ben Campbell, Steamboat, ca. 1852-1860 by Unknown (LOC) Public Domain from the Library of Congress

I am not, by nature, a joiner.

Maybe it’s because I tend to be reserved. (Pass middle age, and it becomes ridiculous to be shy, instead you call it reserved ) Maybe it’s because I’m skeptical. (Pass middle age, and your BS detector gets exquisitely tuned.) Maybe it’s because I value my time spent alone. (Pass middle age, and you finally, mercifully, come to like yourself.)

Still, reticent skeptic though I am, when Firedoglake announced their membership program a year ago, I signed right up. Jane and her cohorts practice a form of reporting and activism that is exceptionally savvy and pragmatic. And creating a community to further that activism was maybe the best example of that keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t. I knew joining would be the right choice.

And so it was – the past year has been amazing. When the Occupy Movement started, FDL’s response was predictably smart and practical. With winter around the corner, the occupations would need to keep warm. FDL’s response to that, Occupy Supply, was activism at its best: effective, ethical and, most importantly, built around direct engagement through locals who knew their town. And in that way, I became a liaison to my occupation here in Pittsburgh.

Certainly, it’s been gratifying to bring needed warm clothes to the occupiers who are changing so much in the political landscape. There is nothing quite like seeing somebody working out there in the cold realize that they are getting socks that are rated to forty below. But for me, it went beyond that.

To do the liaison job right, it’s vital to return to the occupation again and again, to understand the needs and the people. Do this enough, and you cannot remain a disinterested outsider, you become a participant. And for me, this began a remarkable journey.

That journey is a little hard to explain, and a story might help. With the occupiers, and in concert with Occupy the Hood, I attended a Summit on Racism, It was a day of presentations and workshops with a couple of hundred participants. There, among the activists I found a former co-worker from a radio station where I had once worked, advocating for tax reforms. At lunch I found myself sitting next to a long-ago colleague from the local media arts center, now a leader in the movement for LGBT rights. And, remarkably, I found not one, but two people from my high school – my tiny, very conservative, and very white high school – there working for racial and social justice. Who knew?

In becoming more active, I found a rich community, working for the same things I believe in. That community had always been there, just around the corner. But to find it, it took being nudged out of my comfort zone. It took a blog in another city to do that. Thank you, Jane, Bev, Ryan, Brian, all of you. I do a lot more things that could rightly be called activism now. And I’m not going back. There is too much to do beyond the cozy confines of my computer desk. My world is changed now, broader, richer.

And just in time, too. Because more than my own little life is in flux. You know what I’m talking about. There are so many signs. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the revitalized attitude of the young, the new note of hollowness in the former roar of conservative voices. What once seemed immovable is shifting.

You might wonder at the title of my post. Mark Twain said it. It means something along the lines of “There is nothing like the power of an idea whose time has come.” Only Twain is more pithy and apt. Like FDL, he was savvy and pragmatic too. He understood that the powerful new idea doesn’t passively take hold on its own. It needs people to take it up, spread it, act upon it. It needs steam.

You can remain dockside. You can stay in the familiar place, thinking that the lonely stretch of riverbank you see, where nothing seems to get better, is all there is. You can read and comment and shake your head. That’s what I had been doing. But what I discovered, what I was coaxed into discovering, is that there are better things just around the bend in the river, a marvelous journey that awaits those who are willing to embark.

This is membership drive week here at FDL and it won’t surprise you to hear that I highly recommend joining. It’s a good community, smart, full of potential, engaged and active. Certainly, without question, now is the time to act. It’s a decisive time, a watershed time.

It is, in short, Steamboat Time. I say, book your passage and let’s steam.