We, here at Peaceworks, continually struggle to, in the words of Jesse Jackson, "Keep hope alive!" This has been a challenge throughout all the nearly 29 years we've been around as an organization, under Democratic, as well as Republican, administrations.
We know that many of our fellow progressives are in a profound funk. The economy is in the toilet, and, barring aggressive initiatives that Washington eschews, it is likely to remain there for years, not months, to come.
Many are deeply disappointed with the centrist policies of the Obama administration. And most are frustrated that even very compromised measures like the corporate and polluter-friendly climate bills the administration supported, or the modest public option in healthcare that they halfheartedly endorsed, could not make it through Congress, despite significant Democratic majorities in both houses. Moreover, the increases in military spending that Obama has pushed, and the dramatic escalation of the Afghan War, have erased any illusions that we would see a significant rethinking of the U.S. role in the world under this new President.
Instead of embracing political positions that represent true vision--the sort of policies that could really put the country back to work, frontally address energy and the climate crisis, tackle economic inequality, and beginning the process of beating our massive swords into plowshares--we are getting more "be all things to all people" rhetoric, most of it hollow.
And, in this political morass, we have seen the rise of ever greater intolerance. We daily read reports of new initiatives by the Tea Party, with their know-nothing rejectionism. The "birthers" and those who believe Obama is a closet Muslim seem to be gaining adherents despite the absurdness of their positions.
What is perhaps most disturbing is the rise of Islamophobia, sparked by bloggers, right-wing talk radio jocks and Fox News pundits whipping up hysteria over plans for the so-called "ground zero mosque." This goes hand-in-hand with the fixation on illegal immigration. What we are seeing is classic scapegoating, blaming vulnerable minorities for our woes, rather than addressing true causes. This is something that rears its ugly head all too often, especially in difficult economic times.
How Can We Best Respond?
There is no one tidy prescription to turn things around. There are some rules we can fall back on, however, that may help. These include:
1) Stay true to our positions. Articulate them clearly, talking to our fellow citizens, meeting them where they are at and engaging them on the issues. We must speak truth to power, but we also must do our best to win over our neighbors, co-workers, co-parishioners, and even our relatives. While politics is the art of the possible, and compromise is sometimes needed to move incrementally forward, we should never compromise our beliefs or values. We must be clear on what sort of world we envision and continuously work to move toward a peaceful, just and sustainable future.
2) Draw the connections between the issues, and articulate real solutions. For example, our wars are fueled by our dependence on oil, the use of which is also degrading the environment, altering the climate, impoverishing us, and fueling massive trade deficits. We must advocate for policies that are win-win-win, creating millions of new jobs, providing abundant clean energy, and beginning the process of moving from a war, to a peace, economy. We should work to make alliances between all who favor peace, social justice, sustainability and economic democracy.
3) Work close to home. There is truth in the old adage "Think globally, act locally." We can best influence national policies and international issues, by changing the state of public attitudes right here in mid-Missouri. Others can, and should, work to do the same wherever they live. To the extent that we are able to actually move forward changes in policies, we are much more likely to do this in our own neighborhoods, cities, towns and counties.
4) Experience solidarity working and playing with like minded people. The process of building community inherently underlies the social change process. We need mutual support. We must build bonds of connection and trust among individuals and groups. We need to lend support to our allies and find ways to reinforce each other as we move forward.
5) Have fun and stay hopeful. Activism should never be a burden. It can be very liberating to get out and make your voice heard. Our events are of necessity often serious, but they also must include celebrations and opportunities for us to express our creativity, our love for life and each other, and our sense that together we can rise to the occasion and realize the vision of that "other world" that is both possible and necessary.