Sunday, May 21, 2006

Protest, Hope, Naivety
Some time back I squirted up a bad-mood post, picking up on a sentiment of Kos', that was down on the idea of mobilized protest (marches, vigorous speeches, yadda yadda) as means of affecting social change. I was rightfully smacked around by some here who had just taken part in the war protest in question. At the time, I was concerned that it got the wrong kind of attention, served as a kind of leftist caricature that Republicans have learned to shine a cynical light toward, and in the end just doesn't work anymore because of that.

I was missing some of the big picture (and ok, some of the little picture as well) in my dismissal. Readers reminded me that sometimes such things are less about persuasion than they are about rejuvenation among the distressed, who need to be shown they are not alone; and they convinced that keeping a bad war in the news, no matter what the frame, is always an important way to inch toward its end. I was reminded of that discusssion today after reading Shelly Fredman's (Tikkun Magazine) recent interview with Howard Zinn, who--after all these years, no...because of all these years--still believes.
HZ: It's true that any talk of hope is dismissed as naïve, but that's because we tend to look at the surface of things at any given time. And the surface almost always looks grim. The charge of naïvete also comes from a loss of historical perspective. History shows that what is considered naïve in one decade becomes reality in another.

How much hope was there for black people in the South in the fifties? At the start of the Vietnam War, anyone who thought the monster war machine could be stopped seemed naïve. When I was in South Africa in 1982, and apartheid was fully entrenched, it seemed naïve to think that it would be dissolved and even more naïve to think that Mandela would become president. But in all those cases, anyone looking under the surface would have seen currents of potential change bubbling and growing.

SF: Has the Left responded adequately to the kind of fascism we see coming from Bush's people? Street protests seem to be ineffective; it's sometimes disheartening.

HZ: The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and something changes. People very often think that there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones - protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience - but there is no magical panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but because all of the actions built up over time.

If you listen to the media, you get no sense of what's happening. I speak to groups of people in different parts of the country. I was in Austin, Texas recently and a thousand people showed up. I believe people are basically decent, they just lack information.
There's plenty for even an optimist to quibble with here (finding 1,000 protestors in Austin is about as difficult as finding 1,000 guitar players in Nashville: not very; the "monster war machine", apparently, wasn't "stopped" so much as momentarily diverted) but his point is well-taken and most surely right. Every victory counts, and true advances in humanity are better measured in generations and lifetimes than in congressional terms or news cycles. We'd prefer justice to roll down like a mighty river, but in truth the path is more winding, the pace is sometimes more of a slow drip. The only question is what kind of person do you want to be: one who hears the rush of the waterfall in the distance, or one who doesn't?

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