Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble

Good trouble, necessary trouble
Rep. John Lewis

Rep. John Lewis, who devoted his life to making “good trouble, necessary trouble” in the pursuit of racial justice and equality, died July 17, 2020 at 80.

As a student, he, with many others, “was inspired to go to non–violence workshops, to study love, the way of peace, the way of non–violence.”  Even as he says just this one sentence – you can hear him here – you can feel his commitment to that cause.   And I’m inspired today…

Then in 1963 at the March on Washington (I was there, a sophomore in college), “I appeal to all of you to get into this great revolution that is sweeping this nation.  Get in and stay in the streets of every city, every village and hamlet of this nation until true freedom comes, until the revolution of 1776 is complete.”

More recently he said, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”  – A tweet from June 2018 (reported USA Today, July 18, 2020

I’m inspired today to explore the possibilities of his “directive.”  What can this mean, “to make some noise and get in good trouble?”  What does it mean to me?  And what can it mean to the audiences I imagine for my JustPhilanthropy blog on my ECP website, where I write “from the confluence of justice, philanthropy, and evaluation.”

Of course, I’m compelled to write from my own experience as a program evaluator active a long time in the fields of community development and social justice.   And I find myself writing from the major lessons gleaned from our Pathways to Progress project.  I’m writing to myself as well as to you, whether an activist, a nonprofit manager, a donor to social causes, or a program evaluator.  Some of us are all of these.

Here’s how I translate “Good trouble, necessary trouble” in my lines of work:

Take risks. Be a bit more bold than usual, within yourself and then beyond with others. Dare to reach a bit beyond your usual reach.  Bring your values, your skills, your talent, your voice to a challenge that draws you and your better nature.

Identify an opportunity where your efforts –– let’s say in your work life, your volunteer life, your engaged life – can make a difference, move the ball forward, tip a scale, move a needle (whatever image of critical change–making works for you.)

Within this imagined opportunity to make a difference, ask yourself, “What’s wrong with current practice, with the way things are done that I even now know about, and can name and question?”

Create or join in discussions perhaps already under way that seek to advance solutions to address this identified opportunity.  For what’s wrong, what can a fix look like?  How can we explore and try out these ideas further?  What’s needed to make them go?  What’s next? Who’s with us?

Build relationships based on trust with allies, potential partners, people with leadership or influence or access to resources, and people like yourselves eager to grow the network and create opportunities for others to participate and proceed together toward building a righteous force for change in all the ways suggested above.

Gather resources – energy, good will, currency – deploy them strategically to make gains in all of the above areas.  Maybe even ask for more.

Gauge your progress in all the above areas, and suss out the best path forward.

Repeat and redouble.  You can refer to Pathways to Progress to see how others have worked it.

And as the good Rev. John Lewis says, “Do not give up, do not get bitter or hostile.”