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We need to stop holding out for a hero, CPJ Day speaker says


Musician and speaker David LaMotte will deliver keynote about importance of movements at April PC(USA) event

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Speaker, author and musician David LaMotte will be keynoter during the April 5 Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of

NEW YORK — To many people, Rosa Parks’ life was one day long, David LaMotte says.

It was, no doubt, a historic day: Dec. 1, 1955, when the woman who was black refused to move from her seat that was reserved for whites on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus and was arrested. That sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a key event in the Civil Rights movement.

“We don’t tell the story of the decades she spent as an activist, doing unsung, boring work moving the ball forward,” LaMotte says. “And that work mattered. It wasn’t just the moment that mattered. It was the movement that mattered. Without that movement, the moment wouldn’t have mattered at all.

“We know this because other people had the same dramatic moment before and after her. Her moment mattered because the movement chose to hold it up as an emblematic moment and as a symbol of this oppression, and contest things in the public sphere, based on this particular incident.”

But, LaMotte says, we live in a culture that idolizes the hero, that one person who comes in and single-handedly sets everything right.

“We tell hero stories in order to motivate people,” LaMotte says, coincidentally on the day the new “Captain Marvel” movie opened in theaters. “But a lot of us don’t wake up feeling particularly heroic and have a hard time identifying with those stories.

“In my research, I’ve found heroes never really get anything done on a large scale, in the absence of a movement. Movements, on the other hand, often get a lot done without dynamic leaders. Dynamic leaders are helpful, but not always essential, and we put a lot of emphasis on leadership and on heroes, whereas Jesus, for instance, put more emphasis on followership, on movements, on getting things done together.”

It’s a topic LaMotte will be addressing on April 5 in Washington, D.C., when he is the keynote speaker at Compassion, Peace & Justice Training Day, the Presbyterian prelude to Ecumenical Advocacy Days, April 6 to 8. Registration is still open to both events.

Click here for a list of Compassion, Peace & Justice Training Day workshops.

CPJ Training Day will bring LaMotte back together with people he has worked with many times over the years, including a day with the staff for PC(USA) Compassion, Peace & Justice Ministries last year.

Many people on those CPJ teams will be leading workshops through the training day on subjects such as immigration, climate change, and poverty and guidance in areas such as church policy and advocacy.

“Several of these folks are folks I’ve known a lot of years and for whom I have deep, deep and long-standing respect, and the people I have gotten to know recently carry on that impression,” LaMotte says. “I am a huge fan of the work of the PC(USA) is doing through the CPJ teams there.”

LaMotte’s talk, “Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness,” is drawn from his 2014 book “World Changing 101.” As he sees it, the CPJ day audience will already be tuned into his message of movement building.

“These are folks who have already made the decision to show up, and a lot of them have probably been making that decision for many years, to show up over and over again,” LaMotte says. “That really is how you get it done.

“But the pace of change is often incremental, and it’s easy to feel discouraged. So, part of what I’m bringing is a message of reality-based hope that points to the fact that though we tell the opposite story, what really gets it done is incremental movement work over time.”

Register for Compassion Peace & Justice Training Day

LaMotte’s appearance will lean toward the speaking side of his multi-faceted career. But many people are more familiar with him as a musician, both as a solo artist and collaborator with musicians such as Shane Claiborne, but also as part of the interfaith trio Abraham Jam.

The latter has a lot of LaMotte’s focus these days, working with Dawud Wharnsby, a Muslim musician, and Billy Jonas, a Jewish musician.

“Sometimes we equate the words activism and protest,” LaMotte says, talking about Abraham Jam, which is currently working on a new album. “Protest is half of activism. Protest is getting in the way of what’s wrong, and the other half of activism is creating what’s right.

“I love the Richard Moore line about the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Abraham Jam is about that latter pursuit: How do we tell a better story than the story we keep seeing on the news in terms of interfaith relations? For us to go beyond unity, where everyone is singing the same note, and get to harmony, where we’re singing different notes but they’re beautiful together — that feels like it matters.

“We feel like harmony is more powerful than unity.”

Read More:

Social Justice Advocacy Weekend Takes on a Civil Rights Theme


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