Who the hell is Hope? Hope is, hopefully, you. But, if you are over 50, or perhaps over 40, maybe even over 30, getting into the Hope column is likely to depend on folks younger than you prodding you along and even blazing paths for you to pursue. If you are over 60, much less over 70 and headed toward 80, like me, well, let’s do our best, but the reality is that the future lies with young people. So, Hope is young people, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 years old. And this is a message to Hope.
First, a word or two about words. Reading is good. It matters. But to read, means others must write. Where are the young who are writing, and writing well? Some are certainly doing so, but still too few. Why?
Some oldsters solicit, urge, and prod—but the flow from the young is still only a growing stream compared to the youthful oceanic deluge that society needs. And worse, what about reading? Reading was once a part of life like breathing, but reading is becoming a lost art steadily dissipating into morbid disuse. Yes, many people survey social media nuggets, but those nuggets are often sterile and short. So how will rich insights get learned, taught, and shared?
And what about the streets? Post sixty year olds—even post 50 and likely also post 40 year olds—cannot flood them properly. Too many ties hold oldsters back. Family responsibilities, health, and interminable schedules interfere. Cranky perfectionism and creaky exhaustion interfere. And then there is cynicism, not to mention me-firstism. Only the young can make sufficient space in their lives, minds, and desires to detonate dissent. Only the young can make the world turn in new ways. Only the young have sufficient vigor, sufficient numbers, sufficient mobility, and sufficient capacity to spur sufficient innovative insight, wisdom, and commitment to win a new world. Are some young people trying to do just that? Yes they are. But is it enough? No, it isn’t.
Okay, this may seem unfair. Some old timer—me—lucky enough to have spent his critical years in the cauldron of creativity and commitment called the Sixties, now, a near lifetime later, berates, cajoles, and entreats the young to generate much more energy, information, activism, and construction. By what standard, dare I do such a thing?
Surely, if success is the standard, my generation has no right to cajole. Yes, we got off to an impressive start, raucous and righteous. Our efforts did restrain the warmongers. Our efforts did birth women’s, Latinx, environmental, gay and lesbian, movements. There was heroism. There were gains. But we wanted the world and we wanted it now! We did a lot, no one can deny that. But as time passed our energy and commitment aged. What’s our legacy—well, look around.
What did we bequeath to those who followed? Some knowledge, some memory, some organization, some media, even some mentors and lessons. But, honestly, certainly not the world we wanted you to have. Whatever else we accomplished, we failed at that, and that was the point of it all. So where do I get off asking you to deliver what we didn’t deliver? Well, what’s the alternative?
Now, like it or not, it is your turn. Are you going to do better? Or is everyone going to get cooked, drowned, starved, or blown to smithereens? That, it seems, is the real choice.
Today’s trends could not be more obvious. Surveillance is stratospheric. Poverty and centralized wealth push us back toward the sixteenth century. War and its machinery has seemingly become life’s prime want—at least when life marches to the beat set by capital and power.
Massacres are commonplace. Incarceration is the new slavery. Person by person, way too often it is goodbye glory, hello hate. Look yonder. Is that a new Nazi party organizing our deathbeds over there? You bet it is. Meanwhile, oceans rise and storms multiply. People drown, melt, freeze, or just plain shuffle into what looks like a grim, dismal future. What’s blowing in the wind now? A permanent Hard Rain. What’s that sound? Boom. Die by drone. Boom. Die by missile. Whoosh. Die by rising tides and howling winds. Fukushima or Facebook, which is worse?
In my formative years, the Sixties, I was never apocalyptic. But now, paranoia is the new wisdom. What do you see in your future? Buzzards? Or struggle? Hey, hey, look anywhere. Blatant evidence says it is time for thorough, militant, sustained activism. If not, it will be buzzards for all.
What makes it not fair for me to berate the young as if they are not fulfilling their destiny is that it was so much easier for my generation to rise up. Who am I to urge today’s young to do what was easier in my day, and yet what we ultimately didn’t succeed at anyhow?
Back in my generation’s glory days, we enjoyed a perfect storm of innovative, inspiring, and role-breaking phenomena from hipsters, to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Couple that to daily discovering utterly shocking revelations in southern bus stations, northern riots, and interminable impressions of Indochina bombarded to near oblivion. USA, USA. All lies. USA, USA destroyed the city to save it—again and again. All this together engendered what we then called a massive mind fuck. The world wasn’t what we had been told. It wasn’t what we expected. Our synapses somersaulted. Our nerves combusted. We felt unbridled anger at ubiquitous hypocrisy. We went to books. We went to barricades.
But hold on. Let’s not exaggerate. Even in those heady days, it was never everyone who read, marched, and fought. Indeed, it was never more than in sum total, counting every dissident path, perhaps ten million, or lets even say twenty million, who greatly or even just loosely self identified as part of what was percolating, and most important it was far fewer who really, seriously, fully turned on to making fundamental change—and yet that was nonetheless a whole lot. And some of us even stuck with it for decades, right to now. So what is different about your situation, Dear Hope? Why can’t I just scream at you: Get up and do it again. Do it the way we did it, but much much better.
The answer is, to replicate the path followed then is no longer possible. There is no contemporary shock at hypocrisy to fuel activism, nor will there be. When people today hear that your every word is recorded, that the sky is falling, that drones devastate over there and are being stockpiled here too, nothing much happens. Ho hum. Life goes on, however debased. It just doesn’t matter what is revealed. High water rising. Heat waves cooking. Bombs a dropping. Just seeing horror doesn’t really shock folks. It doesn’t newly outrage folks—including most young folks—because most everyone takes for granted that things are way worse than any event ever reveals. We know they spy on everything. We know they assassinate with impunity. We know they discuss invasions like they are highway repair projects, with as much regard for human corpses as they have for rodents that get in the way of earth movers. We know they tally broken homes, starving kids, and guns spewing death in American schools, churches, and malls, as signs of elite victory over the threat that the population might become too educated, too involved in anything but fearful survival.
And we the people say to it all, yes, sure, it is horrid, but what’s new on TV, in the movies, at the Apple store—because, well, we can use what is new in “culture” and in the commodity market, but we can do nothing about what is new in the trouble tally, in the inhumanity index. Poverty climbs so that over a fifth of America’s children endure it and suffer its lifelong repercussions—and, around the world—billions more. Ho hum. What’s new? Antarctica is melting. Yeah, sure, but what’s happening in La La land? Deep down,everyone knows everything is broken. So reports of the bad fail to provoke resistance and instead only nurture hopeless cynicism.
So what distinguishes now from back in my generation’s day is that for Hope to take to the streets—in the millions, in the tens of millions, and much more—and not just to take to the streets but to develop and retain and act on lessons of resistance and of serious thought about desires and aims for a worthy future will require something very different than what jump-started the Sixties. It will take really hard work. Revealed horrors won’t yield much. People will have to constructively, productively, continuously reveal what can be better and how to attain it.
There is another factor as well. Back in the day, when some young people on a campus were shocked by revelations that all was not remotely as we had been told, we went rogue—meaning, we became criminals in the eyes of America, in the eyes of our parents, neighbors, friends, and faculty. We became walking, talking, horribly threatening oddities, and we had a place to go to look for allies. We could hang out and recruit wherever other young people had been already acclimated to rebellious inclinations by the also emerging hippie phenomenon—which was pretty much everywhere young folks congregated. Do not fold, spindle, mutilate. My radical long hair teamed up with your hippie long hair. My radical mattress on the floor joined your yippee mattress on the floor.
The point is, recently, highly politicized activists had a giant pool of ready—and in some cases even eager—young people to recruit help from. That advantage that we once had is missing now. Nothing quite like what propelled resistance then exists now. First, there is no outraged shock and horror at revelation. There is not a naiveté to offend. That simply can’t happen anymore. Everything bad is expected, and worse. So nothing is revealed. Second, also missing is any prospect of really easy sustainable organizing. Alienation at ticky tacky prospects, coupled to music becoming incendiary, coupled to people having a lot of time on their hands, created a ready army of potential partners, back when, but that is in the past.
So we have to face the hard truth—for Hope to surface beyond nooks and crannies, and to become intense and solid—will take hard work. First, break passivity in oneself. Second, break passivity in others. Become goal seeking. Maintain ourselves against the grain of every self oriented collectivity denying pressure around us, not only from the mainstream, but even from most of so-called alternative culture. And then, finally, move past passivity to galvanize passionate positive desire. Move past wild negative anger to share unswerving positive vision. Seek gains now, over and over, conceived to lead to more gains later, until we achieve our vision.
In bad economic times, it is hard to break from financial accounting practices. In self-centered harping/whining times, it is hard to consider wider aims and implications. Without breaking from financial accounting practices and without considering wider aims and implications, however, we can’t sustain ourselves to tirelessly seek better. When one doubts that anyone else will ever do anything lasting, it is hard to motivate oneself to do something lasting. Yet without achieving lasting commitments, there is nothing. Make struggle last: tenacious, tireless, continuous.
But, wait, maybe I am being just a little too hard on my own generation. Think back again, not to 1968, but earlier, to 1962, say. What became the full blown Sixties just a few years later had its foundations laid then—and earlier, too. And who did that? Lonely people who risked their friendships, their family ties, their future, and even their health and safety. Lonely people who dissented when dissent was simply unheard of.
So, it is certainly harder now, in some ways, but it is also easier in other ways. There was no digital megaphone with which to reach large audiences then. At the outset, look at all the lonely people. Then some resisted. Some persisted. Some burned or sold out—but first all woke up. Maybe that is the real analogy to now. We need to wake up, not as in those past times to escape utter ignorance and attain anger—but in these current times to escape lethargic defeatism and attain vision-fueled desire.
But, hell, you are too negative, some may reply. Weren’t Occupy, and Me Too, and Black Lives Matter huge? Yes, they certainly were, and that’s partly a reflection of the easier aspect. People’s underlying cynicism about contemporary relations—and anger at contemporary crimes—provided a substrate and modern internet tools provided quick communications. So we had massive surges, seemingly arising on the spot. And that kind of surge will happen again. But the issue we now face isn’t to have a one- or two-year surge that devolves over the long haul. The issue we now face is having a surge able to construct lasting movements, lasting organization, lasting vehicles of outreach, and able to construct carefully conceived and truly inspiring examples and messages.
Can Hope do that? If we are talking possibility—the biology and even the physics of it—of course Hope can do that. But will Hope do that? I don’t know. It will be a matter of will, psychology, and personality. It will require the courage to be different not only in values, but also in actions, and not so much in the exciting visible aspects—easy to jump on that—but in face-to-face organizing aspects and in reaching out to those who disagree with aspects, and not so much in the celebratory aspects, as in the learning and teaching aspects.
Is it already starting to happen in labor organizing, reproductive rights organizing, anti racist organizing, anti-fascist organizing, and ecological organizing, each and all clearly on the rise? I think maybe it is.
What we can certainly now say is that this time around it is not sufficient that the young rebel because folks are suffering immensely—as occurred in the Sixties—but the world needs the young to rebel this time out of positive desire and because there just aren’t going to be any more chances. Hope comes through now, or we all watch a horrendous planet wide debacle unfold.
So, Dear Hope, what’s next?
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