Here's an article on hope and the election that I thought might be useful.
It's meshes the intro of The Impossible Will Take a Little While with some
post-election thoughts to try and give people a framework to go forward.
Please do pass it on to friends and colleagues who are wrestling with
The Impossible Will Take a Little While: Hope in a Time of Fear
Paul Rogat Loeb
How do we learn to keep on in this difficult political time, and keep on
with courage and vision? A few years ago, I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu
speak at a Los Angeles benefit for a South African project. He'd been
fighting prostate cancer, was tired that evening, and had taken a nap before
his talk. But when Tutu addressed the audience he became animated,
expressing amazement that his long-oppressed country had provided the world
with an unforgettable lesson in reconciliation and hope. Afterward, a few
other people spoke, and then a band from East L.A. took the stage and
launched into an irresistibly rhythmic tune. People started dancing.
Suddenly I noticed Tutu, boogying away in the middle of the crowd. I'd never
seen a Nobel Peace Prize winner, still less one with a potentially fatal
illness, move with such joy and abandonment. Tutu, I realized, knows how to
have a good time. Indeed, it dawned on me that his ability to recognize and
embrace life's pleasures helps him face its cruelties and disappointments,
be they personal or political.
Few of us will match Tutu's achievements, but in a political time that's
hard and likely to get harder, we'd do well to learn from someone who's
spent years challenging abuses of human dignity from apartheid's brutal
system to Bush's Iraq war, yet has remained light-hearted and free of
bitterness. Because Tutu embodies a defiant, resilient, persistent hope,
where we act no matter what the seeming odds, both to be true to our deepest
moral values, and to open up new possibilities. As Jim Wallis, editor of the
evangelical social justice magazine Sojourners, writes, "Hope is believing
in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change."
We need to be strategic, of course-to learn new ways of framing our vision
and reaching out to those who supported George Bush because they saw no
other alternative. We need to muster enough power to convince mainline
Democrats that capitulation was at the core of the most recent defeats, and
that changing America's politics requires drawing the line. But none of this
will happen unless we persist and find ways to keep engaged those several
million Americans who've just come in to peace and justice movements in the
past couple years.
We do this by recognizing that hope is a way of looking at the world-in fact
a way of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stories of those
who, like Tutu and Nelson Mandela, persist under the most dangerous
conditions, when simply to imagine aloud the possibility of change is deemed
a crime or viewed as a type of madness. We can also draw strength from the
example of former Czech president Václav Havel, whose country's experience,
he argues, proves that a series of small, seemingly futile moral actions can
bring down an empire. When the Czech rock band Plastic People of the
Universe was first outlawed and arrested because the authorities said their
Zappa-influenced music was "morbid" and had a "negative social impact,"
Havel organized a defense committee. That in turn evolved into the Charter
77 organization, which set the stage for Czechoslovakia's broader democracy
movement. As Havel wrote, three years before the Communist dictatorship
fell, "Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an
orientation of the heart."
Even in a seemingly losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire
another, and that person yet a third, who could go on to change the world,
or at least a small corner of it. Rosa Parks's husband Raymond convinced her
to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a 12-year path that
brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got
Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so?
What experiences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions? The links
in any chain of influence are too numerous, too complex to trace. But it
helps to know that such chains exist, that we can choose to join them, and
that lasting change doesn't occur in their absence. A primary way to sustain
hope, especially when our actions seem too insignificant to amount to
anything, is to see ourselves as links on such a chain.
The unforeseen benefits of our actions mean that any effort may prove more
consequential than it seems at first. In 1969, Henry Kissinger told the
North Vietnamese that Richard Nixon would escalate the Vietnam War, and even
use nuclear strikes, unless they capitulated and forced the National
Liberation Front in the South to surrender as well. Nixon had military
advisers prepare detailed plans, including mission folders with photographs
of potential nuclear targets. But two weeks before the president's November
1 deadline, there was a nationwide day of protest, the Moratorium, when
millions of Americans joined local demonstrations, vigils, church services,
petition drives, and other forms of opposition. The next month, more than
half-a-million people marched in Washington, DC. An administration
spokesperson announced that Nixon had watched the Washington Redskins
football game and that the demonstrations wouldn't affect his policies in
the slightest. That fed the frustration of far too many in the peace
movement and accelerated the descent of some, like the Weathermen, into
violence. Yet privately, as we now know from Nixon's memoirs, he decided the
movement had, in his words, so "polarized" American opinion that he couldn't
carry out his threat. Moratorium participants had no idea that their efforts
may have been helping to stop a nuclear attack.
Although we may never know, I'd argue that America's recent movement against
the war on Iraq similarly helped make further wars against countries like
Iran and Syria less likely, and paved the way for more widespread
questioning, even if not quite enough to turn the election. The protests of
early 2003, the largest in decades, brought many into their first public
stand, or their first in years. It wasn't easy to voice opposition when
being called allies of terrorism. Yet people did, in every community in the
country, joined by the largest global peace demonstrations in history. Many
then continued through electoral involvement, raising further issues and
building further alliances. These movements may have inspired the next Rosa
Parks, Benjamin Spock, or Susan B. Anthony. They certainly marked the first
steps for innumerable individuals who if they continue on will become a
powerful force for justice, joining the ranks of the other unsung heroes who
ultimately create all change.
Even if the struggle outlives us, conviction matters. Actions of conscience
confirm the link between our fate and that of everyone and everything else
on the planet, respecting and reinforcing the fundamental connections
without which life itself is impossible. Whether we flourish or perish
depends on how well we can honor the interdependence that Martin Luther King
evoked: "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a
single garment of destiny."
Nor should we forget that courage is contagious, that it overcomes the
silence and fear that estrange people from one another. In Poland, during
the early 1980s, leaders of the workers' support movement KOR made a point
of printing their names and phone numbers on the back of mimeographed sheets
describing incidents of police harassment against then-unknown activists
such as Lech Walesa. It was as if, in the words of reporter Lawrence
Weschler, they were "calling out to everyone else, 'Come on out! Be open.
What can they do to us if we all start taking responsibility for our true
As the Polish activists discovered, we gain something profound when we stand
up for our beliefs, just as part of us dies when we know that something is
wrong, yet do nothing. We could call this radical dignity. We don't have to
tackle every issue, but if we remain silent in the face of cruelty,
injustice, and oppression, we sacrifice part of our soul. In this sense, we
keep on acting because by doing so we affirm our humanity-the core of who we
are, and what we hold in common with others. We need to do this more than
ever in the current time.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the editor of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A
Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004, $15.95,
www.theimpossible.org), named the #3 political book of fall 2004 by the
History Channel and the American Book Association, and of Soul of a Citizen.
This article is adapted from that book, and part was excerpted earlier in