It’s easy to have the energy dissipate. The cycle recurs. There is some originating incident. Everyone gets riled up for a while. The establishment may respond or may just try to wait it out. Initially everyone wants to do something. Without any particular focus the desire for action dissolves into chatter and frustration. Later when a new incident arises people wonder why they never did anything last time.

Sometimes we form organizations. OK, so organizations can allow us to get stuff done. They can also allow us a false sense of accomplishment. Responsibility that was previously diffuse is concentrated on a few individuals. The new leadership group may not have any more idea what to do than the original undifferentiated mass of people, but at least the rest of the people don’t have to face the frustration any more. If the leadership can’t come up with any coherent plan to keep another incident from happening they can console themselves that eventually the system that originated the incident will collapse, but if the organization isn’t doing anything to move the system on its way why does the organization exist?

The cry from the French Revolution that became the national motto is Liberté, égalité, fraternité ou la mort. Equality came over liberty when the revolutionary government decided to crush those unwilling to abide by its rules. The revolutionary armies extracted a tribute of grain from unwilling farmers in a way that, despite rhetoric, did not seem that different from the way that other armies had extracted tributes of grain from farmers. Among those condemned by revolutionary tribunals most were workers and peasants–those most likely to have faced oppression before the revolution. Moreover, equality did not receive continuing support when it came to supporting equality of rights between men and women. Even the term fraternité (fraternity/brotherhood) was problematic in that it seemed to grant a primacy to men.

Perhaps the worst problem with fraternité, though, was that it falls in the realm of moral obligation rather than legal construct like liberté and égalité. The harmony and sense of community that are part of fraternité are not enforceable. At most fraternité can be exhorted or inspired, but cannot be brought about through mere command.

Your particular revolution may not be as grand or deadly as the French Revolution(s), but in each of our lives we have the opportunity to confront our ideals. Do we let go of our dreams? Do we wait on others to accomplish those dreams for us? If you want to know who is responsible for making a difference, then it may be time to look in the mirror. While leaders of movements can inspire us, we are the ones we can do the most to persuade. We are the ones we can best convince to work on making the world better. As Jim Wallis might say, I’m the one I’ve been waiting for.