It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
True, too true: this past year has been all conflict and contradiction, days of grind and times of glory, moments of dread followed by flashes of ecstasy. The pattern was set right at the start: Trump’s shameful and toxic inauguration, a day of infamy, cleansed and massively repudiated 24 hours later by the remarkable and luminous Women’s March, a day of world-wide jubilation. Twists and turns, heartbreak and hope, a breath-taking tangle of surprises, setbacks, and leaps forward. On and on: Steve Bannon with real clear fascism versus a growing popular resistance. And look up: the year ends with the first group of J20 protesters—the folks illegally arrested in Washington at the inauguration—found not guilty. The beat goes on.
Remembering Fats Domino (who left us this year): “It’s been a thrill!” What else can I say?
Well, for one thing I can say that we’re still here, aren’t we? And I can say that that fact really matters. I can say the fascists have not consolidated power despite their determination and undeniable power. I can say that we’re still living, still putting one foot in front of the other, still finding ways to resist, reimagine, and rebuild. As long as we’re here, there’s hope, and as long as we resist, there’s possibility.
I’m often accused of being an optimist, but that charge is simply untrue—optimists tend toward a kind of cheerful passivity because they think they know what’s up ahead, and I have no idea what’s coming. Pessimists are more cynical, but they, too, think they hold some magical crystal ball, this one revealing the dystopic future in all its exaggerated grimness. They are more cynical, but just as passive and just as delusional as their optimistic cousins. I choose instead to be hopeful precisely because I don’t know what’s next, and neither does anyone else. It’s worth remembering that the day before the kick-off of every revolution in history, common sense held that the revolution was impossible; the day after, the consensus was adjusted: now all the commentators agree: the revolution was inevitable.
Hope and fierce collective determination are choices; confidence is itself a politics. This year I’ll again choose hope and confidence, and I urge you to join me. I don’t want to minimize the horror we’re facing—capitalist planetary destruction; predation and exploitation; war and nuclear annihilation; white supremacy emboldened; gender oppression entrenched; the billionaires’ ball unleashed; settler colonialism in power from Indian Country to Puerto Rico to Palestine—but neither do I want to be sucked into its thrall. There’s also Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, #MeToo and Undocumented and Unafraid. Hope is that thing with feathers, our antidote to cynicism and despair; it’s the capacity to notice or invent alternatives; it’s nourishing the precious sense that standing directly against the world as such is a world that could be, or should be. Whatever is the case stands side by side with what could be or should be the case. Without that vital sense of possibility, doors close, curtains drop, and we become stuck: we cannot adequately oppose injustice; we cannot act freely; we cannot inhabit the most vigorous moral spaces. We are never freer, all of us and each of us, than when we refuse the situations before us as settled and certain and determined—the absolute end of the matter—and break the chains that entangle us, launching ourselves toward the imaginable.
Remember that when slavery was formally abolished in the US, the former slave-owners assumed the posture of the aggrieved, and so their narrative held that they were the victims of a terrible injustice. Many sought, and some even won, reparations for lost property—unlike the formerly enslaved people (the former “property”) who instead of reparations got Black Codes, Jim Crow, regimes of lynch-mob terror, red-lining, mass incarceration, occupying police forces, and more. For those who’d been blithely enjoying their privileges while riding on the back of Black bodies, justice and fairness—equality—can always be made to feel like oppression. It’s not—it is instead a cruel if powerful illusion. But privilege works like that. Today young people are leading and building a broad and hopeful movement—the next step in the centuries-old Black Freedom Movement—demanding the end of militarized police targeting and occupying Black people and communities, the creation of decent schools and good jobs, the abolition of mass incarceration, reparations for harm done, and simple justice going forward. Black Lives Matter! To some privileged people it’s as if a terrible injustice has once again befallen them—and of course it hasn’t. To proclaim that “Jewish Lives Matter” in Germany in the 1930s would have been a good thing—those were the lives being discounted and destroyed; to say that “Palestinian Lives Matter” in Israel now would be to stand on the side of the downtrodden and the disposable. And to shout out that Black Lives Matter in the US today is to take the side of humanity. Every City Hall and every police precinct should hang a large Black Lives Matter banner over the front door, and then get real about the work needed to bring that slogan authentically to life.
Never for a moment doubt that your life matters, nor that joy in the face of horror can be made into an exuberant act of refusal. Never lose sight of the fact that this life is all you have, that your candle is burning, and that the light will be extinguished soon enough—too soon, in fact, and in the middle of things, your to-do list unfulfilled. So go ahead, suck the juice from every precious moment with uninhibited gusto. Day to day let’s meet up more, face to face, let’s work out more and break a sweat, let’s eat real food (mostly plants and just enough), and let’s be safe and keep each other safe. Let’s dive into the wreckage together and swim as hard as we can in the direction of our hopes. Let’s dial ourselves up to full volume, all the way turned up, all the way human.
In 2018 I’ll work to become a better organizer and to once more be guided by the eternal rhythms of activism: willfully opening my eyes and paying attention every day; allowing myself to be astonished at the beauty and the ecstasy in every direction as well as the unnecessary pain and suffering all around; I’ll rise up and do something about it, say something about it, act out, write it down, write it up; then I’ll try to be thoughtfully self-critical, to doubt, rethink, and start again. That’s my resolution.
I’ll try to be a good comrade and an active ally—listening harder and listening first, finding the wisdom in others, mobilizing other allies. In a deeper sense, ally is not the right word: I want to dismantle all the structures baked into law and custom, policy and politics that insure a society of oppression and exploitation as well as earned privileges. I want to make a revolution.
I’ll try to gather with people in my community and my family, to take the measure of ourselves in order to name and act within this political moment; talk to strangers every day; knock on doors; read everything; distribute information; display my politics in the public square; listen as hard as I can with the possibility of being changed and speak as clearly as I can with the possibility of being heard; learn from my mentors; follow the young; take to the streets; fight the power; kick some ass; encounter art; eat only what I need; ride my bike everywhere; house the homeless; dance the dialectic; stand up for joy and justice, peace and love. I’ll work to build a mighty social movement and never forget that the Democratic Party cannot be the heart of the resistance to fascism, imperialism, or Trump. It’s up to us.
Another world is surely coming, but there are no guarantees that it will be a better world—work camps and slave states are possible, nuclear war an increasing possibility, planetary collapse on the near horizon. But peace and freedom are possible as well. The choices are stark: socialism or barbarism, chaos or community, the end of capitalism or the end of the earth.
I’ll do my best in 2018 to build the front against the Trump junta continues to try to execute its soft coup, to contribute to the movement for peace in this Spartan military garrison, for racial justice and freedom in this bastion of white supremacy, for economic justice in the heartland of predatory zombie capitalism, for women’s equality and gender justice in this male supremacist bazaar. And that’s not all…
Put this poem by Martin Espada in your pocket to start the year, and go forth with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. :
Imagine the Angels of Bread
This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.
This is the year that those
who swim the border’s undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth; this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.
If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorum,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horsebackare not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.
So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.