“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” ~ Rebecca Solnit

                   

I was fortunate enough to come across a posting on tumblr that featured selected passages from an exemplary essay by Rebecca Solnit. The subject? Hope.

I am  not reprinting the entire essay here; rather, I have chosen passages from each of the essay’s five sections, passages that I felt were particularly well written, but more importantly, passages that really struck a chord within me. The link to the original article is included at the end.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

From “Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage,” by Rebecca Solnit

What We Hope For

Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the “minor-good-deed category.” Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country’s dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation “became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years.” Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi’s Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King’s sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

Victories of the New Peace Movement

In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There’s plenty of what’s worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways.

Not Left But Forward

This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

I’m hopeful, partly because we don’t know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we’re here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that.

This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org. To see Orion magazine’s illustrated version of the piece click here.

“There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pentagon War Dead

Fallen Troops on Transport Plane Arriving at Dover Delaware

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.” ~ John McCain

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” ~ Jose Narosky

(Yes, I—screaming liberal that I am—have begun my post with a quote by John McCain. I know that this choice probably surprises those of you who have read me on a regular basis and know how much I opposed McCain’s bid for president. That being said, I will in no way dishonor the service that Senator McCain gave to this country, nor diminish the sacrifices that he and his family made. And as I was searching for the perfect quote to begin my post, I happened upon this one by McCain. I believe that his quote, spoken as someone who has seen war firsthand, sums up exactly what I am trying to say.)

Yesterday was Good Friday. I did not post. I was absorbed in my own little world, sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book. Days like that are meant to be enjoyed and appreciated. And that is what I did.

But then, I went to bed early as I was not feeling well. How many times have I written that in this blog, “not feeling well”? I’ve lost count.

Today when I finally got myself moving, I was trying to think about what I wanted to post. What’s on my mind? What am I thinking about? What might catch a reader’s interest? So I sat down and began my usual routine by reading my comments first, always something from Maureen on White Orchid, and an interesting comment by my friend Sarah. Then I went to My Comments section in my dashboard.

This section on Word Press lets you keep track of threads of which you have become a part. So I was thinking about how aggravating it is to continue to see comments on a thread in which I have absolutely no interest, when I saw a thread from WillPen’s World (http://willpen.wordpress.com/), one of my favorite blogs.

“I finally saw that the story was not about the media at all. It was about honoring the heroes who sacrifice their lives to serve us all. ” ~ Courtney Kube

The comment made in the thread, which was regarding a previous post on WillPen’s site, was posted by regular visitor, Starshine, who always shares interesting tidbits and feeds to good posts. But this one brought me up short. It was a link to two different Daily KOS posts, both about U.S. casualties in the wars.

The first post, by greenies, was entitled IGTNT: With A Family’s Permission We Bear Witness. IGTNT, which stands for “I Got The News Today,” marked a bittersweet anniversary with this post: five years of posts in memory and gratitude to our fallen service members and their families.(http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/9/718378/-IGTNT:-With-a-Familys-Permission,-We-Bear-Witness).

The second post, entitled No One Could Have Asked For A Better Brother, was by noweasels (see link below), and although quite long, it was heart wrenching. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend both posts to anyone who cares about our troops. The post brought to mind that the first anniversary passed in February of the death of one of my friend’s fiances. He was a U.S. Navy Seal, and he had already been in Iraq and Afghanistan far too many times. But it was what he did, what he loved to do, and he died serving his country in the company of his brothers, his Seal unit.
 

 

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” ~ Aeschylus

military-flag-draped-caskets1In February of this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the lift of the 18-year ban by the Pentagon on media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of war victims arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The ban was imposed by Bush senior during the first Iraq war. Many people argued that the ban was the administration’s attempt to hide the very human cost of war so that the country would stand behind the president’s actions.

Others, Republicans and Democrats, have argued vociferously that the ban should be lifted: “We should honor, not hide, flag-draped coffins,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “They are a symbol of the respect, honor and dignity that our fallen heroes deserve.”

Sunday, April 5 marked the first time that the media was allowed to witness the ritual of returning the remains of fallen U.S. service members.

While I have long been vocal about how this imposed cloak was a disservice to our fallen warriors, there are others who are still opposed to lifting the ban, citing the possible misuse of the images for anti-war propaganda. Apparently, those families who do not want any pictures to be taken or any videos shot will have the final say in their participation. I can respect that need for privacy and hope that the media does as well.
 
Courtney Kube, Pentagon Producer for NBC News, movingly comments that “While the family witnesses the event just a few yards away from the media, the Dover rules strictly prohibit the media from taking any photos of them. Even though we all do our best to avert our eyes and give them their privacy, their presence is palpable and heartbreaking.”  (http://fieldnotes.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/04/08/1885755.aspx).

“If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.”  ~ Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War

But we must remember, the images of war help to educate the public. During the Viet Nam war, the images sent back home from war photographers and the footage beamed into American living rooms became the initiation of the American public to the stark realities of war. No heroic songs. No heroic slogans. Only young men dying in a brutal war that divided the nation in every conceivable way: class, race, and politics to name but the obvious.

That is why I was completely dismayed by the continued non-coverage during this Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan. My belief is that if the people in our society and societies of other countries participating in these wars—regardless of political party affiliations— see the ultimate sacrifices made, then the war will cease to be an abstract idea, something thousands of miles away in a distant land that doesn’t really affect our day-to-day lives.

“In peace, sons bury their fathers; in war, fathers bury their sons.” ~ Herodotus

But war isn’t distant. It isn’t abstract. War is ugly, and it is brutal. And it should affect our day-to-day lives. As Americans, we should always be mindful of the prices paid to keep our country free, that these prices affect families in our own hometowns and neighborhoods every day of every week of every year that we are involved in battle.

The following statistics are taken from a Daily KOS post by noweasels:

To date, 4266 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Iraq. The death toll thus far in 2009 is already 45. More than 31,000 members of the military have been wounded, many grievously. The Department of Defense Press Releases, from which the information at the start of each entry in this diary was drawn, can be seen here. The death toll among Iraqis is unknown, but is at least 200,000 and quite probably many times that number.

To date, 676 members of the United States military have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The death toll thus far for 2009 is 46. 452 members of the military from other countries have also lost their lives. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/4/10/718820/-IGTNT:-No-one-could-have-asked-for-a-better-brother).

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

army-bugler1
Army Bugler at Military Cemetery

My father’s own casket was draped with the U.S flag at his funeral. He had a 21-gun salute. A veteran of World War II and Korea, and a non-military veteran of Viet Nam, he fought for a country that was not his original homeland. He earned a Bronze Star with valor. He earned the right to that flag-draped casket and that salute. And as much as it tore my heart out, he earned the right to have “Taps” played when he was laid to rest.

Fading light
Dims the sight
And a star
Gems the sky
Gleaming bright
From afar
Drawing nigh
Falls the night.
 
 

Major General Daniel Butterfield

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” ~ Hugo Black, Supreme Court Justice

The wars in which our country has been immersed since Bush 2’s declaration of victory continue today. Tomorrow, someone may have a knock on the door that they never could have foreseen and have prayed intently against ever hearing.

For too long, the citizens of this country have not been allowed to grieve collectively about our fallen military men and women. Without imposing upon the rights of their families, I believe that the lift of this ban could be healthy for our country. As one person commented on Kube’s story:

When you cry for and mourn a fallen soldier (especially one that you didn’t know), I believe that you are really mourning all of the soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. I think that witnessing and really feeling these moments allows us to realize just how much the sacrifices these men and women have made actually mean to us.

and another:

I caught myself wanting to stand during the ceremony in my den.  This is something that this country has been missing since the war in Iraq started—honoring those who have given their lives.  We need never forget the sacrifices of the fallen heroes and their families.

“If we don’t bear witness as citizens, as people, as individuals, the right that we have had to life is sacrificed. There is a silence, instead of a speaking presence.” ~ Jane Rule

boots-and-rifles-memorial
Soldier's Cross: Boots, Rifles, Helmets, and Dogtags of the Fallen

We must continue to bear witness, as painful as that may be. We must continue to hold in our hearts and our thoughts our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and school mates. It is the very least that we can do.

So the next time I complain about not feeling well, about having a headache, or how my back is in so much pain, I need to remind myself that I am here in my house, writing what I want to write, when I want to write it because of the men and women who haven’t had a real shower in weeks, who sleep without pillows and soft mattresses, who wear the same dirty clothes day after day, who carry with them the smallest of talismans to remind them of home.

I must admit that they are doing what I could not. Many are over in that desert for the third or fourth time. Living in a community filled with military families, I am aware that people all around me are waiting for their loved ones’ safe return, and hoping against hope not to get  the letter and the knock on the door.

And so I will leave you with this quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a video to remind you that your bad day will never be as bad as those who have been sent to war:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

 

 

If the content on this post has offended anyone in any way, I apologize.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

falling_stars800

The Silence of a Falling Star Lights Up a Purple Sky

I’ve Never Seen A Night So Long

Emotionally Raw, Tired, and Overwhelmed

I’m really tired tonight, emotionally exhausted. Trying to write my Grace in Small Things list for today was really hard. I took on a hard topic last night, and it’s still with me. Any one of the three stories that I found would have been pretty bad on its own, but to put all three together—I think that it was just too much.

I cannot get out of my head the image of the 93-year-old man who froze to death inside of his house because of a bureaucratic decision. I cannot forget about the two EMT’s who made the decision not to resuscitate a man based on the condition of his house. My god, if they came into my house right now, this very moment, if anyone who worked for social services or the city government came into my home right now they would think that I’m a terrible mother, that my children are deprived, that my house should be condemned, and most certainly, that I am not worth saving.

My house is a complete and total mess. I have cobwebs because I cannot reach them with my ostrich feather duster to clean them. The last time that I tried to do that, I pulled my back. My living room still has two dining room chairs in boxes because my eldest son refuses to take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. It has become a point of downright contention. My youngest son’s room is neat and tidy.

My room is relatively organized, but dusty. The kitchen looks like a disaster, but is wiped down daily with disinfectant spray, and the sink is scrubbed with liquid bleach. Clothes are washed and dried daily. Everyone bathes daily. I personally clean the bathroom on my hands and knees with a cloth and spray disinfectant because I don’t trust my sons to do it right, and Corey has enough to do around here. I can’t walk after I do it, and I have to get in bed and take my muscle relaxers afterwards, but it’s clean.

Regardless, the house still looks terrible because there are things everywhere from where we pulled things out to start the remodeling. Boxes, furniture, all sorts of things in the wrong places. Would that mean that I wouldn’t get the needed attention from an EMT because it wouldn’t look as if I deserved it? Who were these people to make this decision. I am completely flummoxed.

And then there is the story of the two children: Sage and Bear and their father. I have tried all day to put them out of my mind and find that I cannot because there are too many stories of too many children like Sage and Bear. I just came across another story of a 19-year-old and her boyfriend who beat to death her two -year-old daughter for not saying please, but she did manage to keep saying “Mommy I love you” while they beat the very life out of her.

There are too many stories like this for my heart to hold. I do not know how the men and women who work in these professions can do it, can go to their jobs everyday and hear about these children, or on the opposite side, hear about these monsters. I don’t know how social services can try to work with families who are so obviously dysfunctional but the courts say that placement with the biological parents is preferable. I don’t know how the doctors and nurses can look at the shattered bodies who are brought to them in the aftermath of parental and spousal warfare. I don’t know how the EMT’s can go into a house and remove the body of a 93-year-old man who died on a technicality.

Think of all that this man had survived: two world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Twin Towers, desegregation, women getting the vote, a man landing on the moon, cars, television, and telephones. He saw great inventions and terrible creations of mass destruction. He saw all of the wonderful things that our country celebrated: the end of wars, ticker tape parades, the first step on the moon, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and he saw all of the evil of the world: Pearl Harbor, Nazi Germany, Waco, 9/11, and all of the rest. And the final helplessness of dying of hypothermia in his own home.

To all of the people who do the hard jobs that I know that I would like to do but cannot, I offer my sincere gratitude. You walk into houses. You look for the lost children. You do not stop until you find the monsters. You live with the monsters, carry them with you, tucked away in you back pockets so that they do not touch the sanctity of your own families, but they are always with you until you can pass them along to the next link in the chain.

And some of you are never able to let go of the monsters, even when they are dead and gone. That is their heinous legacy to those whose lives they have stolen.

Newest Statistic That I Never Needed To Know

So today I learned from one of the Veterans’ websites that everday approximately 18 American war veterans commit suicide; every month, almost 1,000 veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs attempt suicide (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8868).

This startling statistic is news to most Americans because the Bush administration did not want this news to be made public to Americans. It has taken a law case, officially known as Veterans for Common Sense vs. Peake, for this news to reach the American public. This case is a class action lawsuit brought by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for United Truth on behalf of 1.7 million veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the conditions of the case, the VA had to produce a series of documents.

In one letter from Dr. Ira Katz, former head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, Katz opens his key e-mail with “Shh!” Katz advises a media spokesperson not to tell CBS News that 1,000 veterans receiving care at the VA try to kill themselves every month.

Another shocking number is 287,790—the actual number of American veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who had failed VA disability claims since March 25 2008. Other casualty statistics not normally revealed:  Number of American troops wounded in Iraq: 31,948;  Number of troops “injured” in Iraq”: 10,180; Number of  troops “ill” in Iraq: 28,451.

back-of-angel

Those three number total represent soldiers who are so damaged physically that they have to be evacuated to Germany. By splitting the numbers into three categories, it makes the number of casualties appear to be lower. Or, at least that was the thinking in the Bush administration.
 
Personally, the number manipulation just makes it that more tragic. These numbers are people, not numbers. If the American people were aware of just how many of its warriors were dying not only on foreign soil, but also on American soil, after they have come home, after they have been taken out of combat, if they only knew just how its veterans were waiting years for decisions on their benefits, perhaps they would be less complacent. If only we had seen the flag-draped coffins sooner, perhaps the reality might have moved beyond our periphery sooner.
Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day. More later. Peace.