---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 14:15:05 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Doing Something
by Geov Parrish
I came back from vacation a couple weeks ago, and, not surprisingly, the
news was grim. Wars here, trampled civil liberties there, hard times all
over the place... The lunatics are not only running our asylum, but
spending their days either feeding their bloodlusts or trying to remember
where they put their keys. If these aren't the end times prophesized in
untold numbers of religions, they're a heckuva warmup act.
It would be easy, especially for someone like me who's submerged full time
in this stuff, to get discouraged. But then I read my mail.
Or rather, I try to put a dent in it. Here's a random sampling from the top
of the stack sitting next to me at the moment: Ground Zero Center for
Left Business Observer; Women Against Military Madness (Minnesota); the
Anderson Valley Advertiser (Mendocino County, Calif.); Jobs With Justice;
Prison Legal News; Nuclear Resister; the New Hampshire Gazette; Dollars and
Slingshot; Parting the Tide (Los Angeles); Random Lengths (San Pedro); The
Match!; Homestead Community Land Trust; Portland Alliance; Justice Matters
(from the Western Prison Project); No More Hiroshimas! (a Japanese Peace
Group); The Insurgent (Eugene); Oregon Peaceworker; Fairness and Accuracy
in Reporting; Nonviolent Action (from London); the Catalyst (from the
Children's Alliance); and, of course, standbys like CounterPunch, Z
Magazine, the Hightower Lowdown, the Progressive Populist, and even the
other things in the publications that I write for, like In These Times and
Eat the State!.
Four inches down, about two feet to go.
And that's mostly from this country, there's a lot we can learn from the
staggering number of extraordinary campaigns and victories for freedom,
self-determination, and the like being waged all over the world. And that's
just the print publications. At the moment I have about 2,100 unread
e-mails still to slog through, from before and during my journeys, which
might explain why I haven't written back to some of the letters you Kind
Readers have sent my way. Some of my e-mail is spam, but more of it is
inspiring, and there's an endless profusion of newsletters, e-zines,
publications, and web sites, much of it detailing not just what's wrong
with the world, but what they're doing to make it better. They're lobbying
and organizing to change public policies; they're also creating
institutions themselves and not waiting for the resources, community
participation and mutual support that government and big business should
help foster, but usually don't. There's housing endeavors, alternative
media, mediation and conflict resolution, support for domestic violence
victims, health care for the poor, substance abuse projects like needle
exchanges and community education (as well as treatment programs), food
banks, seed banks, sustainable agriculture (and CSA's community supported
agriculture), barter programs, tutoring programs, workplace organizing,
credit unions, arts festivals and music jams and poetry orgies, kids'
activities, day care co-ops.
And on, and on, and on. People who care, meeting needs that often could be
met for the cost of one cupholder on some new
F-35-AX-Fighter-LazerQuestVision Z DestructoJet. While the state extorts
money from us and hands it to the wealthy, a lot of ordinary folks of
considerably less means are out there making a difference instead.
One of the privileges that comes with making a living by immersing myself
in mostly bad news at our country's higher political levels, but also being
able to pay attention to my own community, is speaking with, and finding
out about, all the people doing wonderful and inspiring things at the lower
levels, in local communities, under the radar. Such folks mostly draw
benign contempt (or the occasional patronizing human interest story) from
local TV "news" programs focused on car crashes, sports, salacious
celebrity sightings, crime, sports, scandal, program promotions, sports,
and five-day weather forecasts. (Not necessarily in that order, because any
one story can fall into three or more categories.)
The actual lived experiences of the friends, neighbors, and co-workers in
our cities or towns have no more to do with such "news" than do Temptation
Island, Survivor XIV, or any other storyboarded, "reality"-themed program.
And the real news might be as close as tonight's meeting in the church
basement on the next block.
I do a lot of public speaking, especially in schools, and have also been
lucky enough to do some speaking tours around the country over the years.
One of the unavoidable lessons is that there are good people doing
remarkable things everywhere, even in the most unlikely-seeming of places.
And in the months since September 11, as the venality, corruption, greed,
and organized brutality of politicians and CEOs has seemingly snowballed,
so, it seems, has the response from outraged Americans wanting their
country back. My mail is way up, including lots of groups and coalitions
and projects that didn't even exist a year ago. Every time I talk with an
organizer, author, lecturer, or pundit who's touring, she or he reports the
same thing: people hungry for information, appalled at the direction of our
country, and wanting to do something.
To those folks, many of whom haven't thought of themselves as activists in
decades, or haven't ever even dreamed of getting involved, I can only offer
three things. First, you're not alone. Just because it's not on the evening
news doesn't mean it's not happening, and just because this or that skewed
polling question shows broad support for or one or another policy atrocity
doesn't mean it's popular, cast in stone, or can't be stopped.
Secondly, creating a better world isn't just about stopping things from
getting worse -- it's also about creating ways for things to get better.
With the spirit and creativity and sheer wealth of this country, it's
inexcusable that our government, at virtually every level, is so rarely a
force for good, but that's because it's not designed to be. If it ever was,
and the history of nation-states is not encouraging on this point -- it's
not any more. But there are plenty of other institutions, from radical
activist groups to church choirs to principled unions to intentional
communities to nonprofit foundations to community-minded small businesses,
that are doing it instead.
And that's the third item. It's doable. We can make a difference,
individually and working together. For some reason, stories of ordinary
people organizing to improve our daily lives rarely make headlines, even in
papers like this one, but especially not in the dailies and TV shows seen
by millions. Those stories should make headlines, and they're everywhere.
In this country and in much of the world, our formal political process
largely has been stolen from us, and is being used to inflict a bit of good
and a lot of harm. In response, some people are trying to increase the good
and minimize the harm in those policies; others are trying to take the
system back from the greedmongers and warheads (or is that warmongers
and...oh, never mind); and still others are trying to create entirely new
long-term systems that will work for the ideals our democracy once promised.
All of these paths are essential, and all of them are making a difference.
Plus, getting out and doing something is a lot more fun than just grumbling
at the headlines.
Those headlines, in these Dark Days of Dubya, are frequently grim. But I'm not.
I'm an optimist; I could hardly be otherwise. I read my mail.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Sep 07 2002 - 17:57:24 EDT