Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Keeping Bitterness at Bay

If we choose hope we are making a commitment to stave off bitterness. We cannot always succeed, and even when we do, we should be careful not to condemn the bitterness of others in the same way that we must speak out against violence, greed, and injustice. Good people who give up are not the enemy. Indeed bitterness and cynicism are often the byproducts of a former idealism which collided headlong with terrible realities.

Here I choose to celebrate the possibility of a better world, the fulfillment to be had in the effort to bring it about, and the connections and friendships made along the journey. Recently I've been most inclined to shake my head in dismay at the news which is most reported on, and the apparent absence of a coordinated and hopeful uprising against the tide of corruption and greed which seems to be strangling our government and the corporate media from which most of us receive the news of the day. This dismay has unfortunately played a part in the absence of posts here, and for that I apologize - especially to those of you whose kind words have kept me from abandoning the project altogether.

It turns out that one doesn't have to hunt too hard, especially in this information age, to find seeds of hope in the fields of despair, and so I will endeavor to take up the task again, if not daily at least on a weekly basis. Now some on the left have taken pleasure from the continuing deterioration of Bush's popularity, and while I confess that the dismal poll numbers give me hope that a larger share of us are no longer fooled by the spin, mere dissatisfaction does not a movement make. We need positive messages for positive change.

When the immigration reform protests and marches took place, my initial reaction was why does this issue mobilize so many while similar efforts on behalf of peace or fairness to workers or poverty relief or saving our environment can't seem to get traction, when those causes have been so utterly betrayed by our government and our media. As much sympathy as I felt toward the very real human beings threatened with felony status for their honest efforts to improve their lives, and the likely trickle down ethnic discrimination against legal residents whose heritage groups them in the minds of the prejudiced with those who "steal our jobs", the complexity of immigration issues cuts both ways, and I longed for such activism on other fronts.

Paul Loeb writes compellingly on this issue and delivers a hopeful epilog to his analysis:
Immigration politics are complicated-- flooding this or any country with cheap labor can and will drive down wages, especially when unions are being busted and undocumented workers live in fear of deportation. If we don't create enough global justice so desperate people don't continue leaving their homes in search of a glimmer of hope, then all but the wealthiest will succumb to the worldwide race to the bottom. But as the signs at the march reminded us, we're all children of immigrants, except for the Native Americans. And those marching and chanting reminded those of us who are legal because our ancestors immigrated earlier on that even in the land of Microsoft, we are tied with the people who pick our crops, build our houses, clean our office buildings, tied in what King called "an inescapable network of mutuality...a single garment of destiny."
Why can't we have these kinds of marches to challenge the war or global warming, or all of Bush's arrogant reign? Anti-war marches were huge before Bush went into Iraq, since then far more disappointing, even as the polls steadily shift. Maybe it's because those more comfortable sit behind our computers too much and believe we can do all politics with the click of a mouse.. Maybe the issues feel abstract or intransigent. Unless you have a son or daughter over serving it doesn't hit home nearly as much as the raw callousness of Congressman Sensenbrenner's plan to make 12 million people instant felons, as well as anyone who gives them water or food, education or medical care. ...

Here the stakes were clear, immediate, and people turned out despite the risk of being deported, because if Sensenbrenner's bill had gone through, as might well have happened without these marches and outcries, then life would have gotten instantly far harsher and crueler. So for those of us who didn't march but claim to act for justice, we need to heed the lives of those these voices represent, and do what we can to ensure they are heard. We also need to link this issue of fundamental human dignity to all the threats that make it difficult for people to simply live and flourish on this earth. Maybe by finding their voice and courage, those who marched in America these past weeks can teach the rest of us how to come out of our own shadows and fears and join across our own divides.

I've come close to chiming in on other issues. When Rumsfeld came under increasing heat (Isn't it simply obvious that the whole lot of them should have long since resigned in shame?), when Bush changes his mouthpiece by replacing McClelland (Who really believes that a different spin has any positive effect on a failed policy), when mainstream news reports, most recently 60 Minutes, yet another voice corroborating the obviously established fact that the Administration chose intelligence to fit its policy to attack Iraq rather than the other way around (How is this an iota different than reporting that was readily available on-line before the last election?).

But discontent with the Bush administration is nothing new, and it was getting plenty of attention, even in the mainstream media. Piling on just adds to cynicism, and shouldn't this site be about providing a positive alternative?

And so it was that I was much heartened by David Brancaccio's interview last week with singer/activist Peter Gabriel. In spite of being involved with a project highlighting many of the worst cases of human abuse, mistreatment, and genocide, Gabriel remains committed to a brighter future which seeks to curb such atrocities. Brancaccio contrasted Gabriel's hope, with the bitterness which Kurt Vonnegut exhibited on a previous interview on NOW. I recalled my disappointment with that episode which I had been looking forward to at the time. Vonnegut, like Twain, who became very bitter in his later days, can be forgiven his bleak outlook given his years of keen observation, but his bleak vision for our future has its only utility in the possibility of waking up some to alarming trends. Twain and Vonnegut may be proved right in the long run - certainly it is easy to imagine a falling apart as has happened all too often in many human societies - but it is a practical matter that I continue to put my ideals first and believe in the possibilities while keeping that bitterness at bay.

We need each other's help in this effort. Again thank you to those whose kind words have helped me recently.


Scottage said...

This is a great post! I think that many people, perhaps most people, don't think of the dangers in the world effecting them personally, whereas the immigrants see a direct relationship between their daily lives and the politicizing of the immigration issue we see today.

In fact, I suspect most people pretend these issues will miraculously not effect their lives, with the most tragic effects of global warming will somnehow being avoided, and the government keeping us safe from the growing threat in the Middle East, and the growing divide between the "have" and "have-nots" deminishing with the world moving towards a more harmonious existance.

This isn't some grand psychosis that's causing this, but a coping method allowing people to have hope during dangerous times. And what is more important than hope, as you so ellequently say? I have trouble remembering that sometimes, remembering that people need to find their own truths that they can live with to keep hope. Instead it frustrates me, and makes me push harder to have these people understand the truth, and speak it themselves.

I can't say if the coping mechanism is good or bad, and I can't say if the vast majority of the people in the world changed today if it would make any difference. Only time will tell. But I do think this is why immigration marches bring in millions of people, and anti-Bush protests bring in thousands... because the Bush reality is too harsh to directly associate with.

Christina said...

Hiya Walker!

I wish you posted this eighteen months ago when I was dismayed and at a low point.

I did gradually move past my bitterness, which was compounded by self-loathing at my stupidity/lack of comprehension why Americans would vote Bush in for a second term. I learned gradually to look on the bright side of things: I shouldn't perceive myself as idiotic because I can't be as fearful, ignorant, optimistic and myopic as many, many people, but rather as someone who has the creativity, energy and smarts to make active changes weaning my lifestyle and consumer choices away from a tapeworm economy.

Since I stopped watching television and listening to commercial radio I have found more independent, deep, some may say subversive channels for learning and dialogue. This is my coping mechanism -- investing locally, putting my money where I want to see change.

Yeah, I know this sounds awfully smug, but I am humble enough to say I'm learning every day. I think I'd like to try acting like an American did fifty or eighty years ago, being frugal, thoughtful, responsible and self-sufficient, subversive as it may be nowadays to reject the somatic corporate and cathode ray tube teats.