Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What Now?

Trying to give voice to just how bad things are for our (attempt at) democracy was/is the impulse behind a lot of blogs. Many of these blogs are, as often noted, part of a movement to get questions asked that aren't otherwise being asked by the mainstream media.

The clamoring over the lies, and calling them lies, is now, thankfully, nothing new. The irresponsibility of much of the media is also now a given. War for profit, institionalized violence for which individual soldiers are being held responsible, are all a part of daily realities. After numbing out under the crushing weight of the Bush re-election, people are starting to regroup and say, "what now?"

Bill Moyer's Speech at Conference Assails Right Wing shows how angry he is at the strong arming of the media by those in government and the complicity of much of the media by not asking questions that matter. Angry enough he said, perhaps, to get him out of the "rocking chair" and back behind the "anchor chair."

Molly Ivin's article, "They Lied to Us"
once again outlines how the government leadership really did lie. But she talks about asking a question, "Since I believe one of our greatest strengths as Americans is shrewd practicality, I thought it was time we moved past the now unhelpful, 'How did we get into his mess?' to the more utilitarian, 'What the hell do we do now?'" But still she talks about how we got into the mess without addressing the "what now."

I just saw Seymour Hersh speak in early May, here on campus. The last question in the question/answer session, was basically, "What do we do now? We know it's bad, but what do we do? How do we keep on keeping on?" Hersh's response was more or less, just keep moving. At the conference Moyer's addressed on Media Reform, people also left mad and energized, but feeling they were without a plan. It appears people are looking for direction, but for someone else to give it to them.

Howard Zinn, not just lamenting the troubles of today, but encouraging change states in his address "Against Discouragement" at Spelman College:
I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam -- bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers -- it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.

The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do -- to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.

Remember Tolstoy's story, "The Death of Ivan Illych." A man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he has done everything right, obeyed the rules, become a judge, married, had children, and is looked upon as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wonders why he feels a failure. After becoming a famous novelist, Tolstoy himself had decided that this was not enough, that he must speak out against the treatment of the Russian peasants, that he must write against war and militarism.

My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself -- whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist -- you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.


There is a yearning for change, but no one seems to know exactly what to do next. Are we all waiting for that "charismatic leader" to follow? Who would "we" all agree to follow anyway? Would it matter as long as s/he had that charismatic magic of appearing to have all the answers? And by the way, who are "we"?

If it's democracy we are looking for, how does following "the one" help us really achieve that end? Can we not use our own minds to figure out what we are capable of doing individually and find links there to working cooperatively and then collectively?

The hand wringing is with good reason. There are serious issues ahead to attend.

However, people are doing little things all over, and as Zinn said those little things add up. Given the current crises, it seems something big is the only answer, and that is what we are lacking, Something Big. It seems like everything's been tried, or at least that's how some jaded activists feel and lend as their interpretation of their experiences. But I disagree. There's a lot to do, and people are doing them, as a reminder...

1. Demanding an Exit Strategy from Iraq. Local Demonstrations, anyone? or How about trekking to DC in September? This is big. Don't forget that Military families are organized against this war, actively speaking out as are many soldiers. This is an historical break.

2. Staying on the Media dereliction. After the conferences critical of the media in the past month, I noticed the News Hour with Jim Lehrer had an actual alternative media representative on as a voice for discussing recent Uzbekistan murders. I'd never seen that before. An incremental change, but change nonetheless.

3. Single issues, like gay marriage, healthcare, social security, are getting disparate groups involved in the political process and giving more opportunities to get questions asked in a way that is framed beyond the Republican/Democrat tiny way of thinking. I, for one, plan to get certain people t-shirts for Christmas that say "Jesus was a Socialist"-- I can't wait for following discussion.

There are just a few things going on. I don't think sitting behind our computers writing on blogs will be enough, but it is one of those little things that can add up. The bottom line is people are doing things; but, of course, we should challenge ourselves to get more creative, make more connections, and get collective with our individual practices.

I don't think we need a charismatic leader. I think that may be exactly what we don't need. We need grassroots organizing, everyday people getting involved. This way we'll stop looking to others to tell us what to do and start figuring out the answer to that question for ourselves and with our own networks.

So, what now? Now that you know what I've been thinking, what do you think? Do we dare look to ourselves for answers to problems? If no, why not?

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