By Joy First
As activists for peace and social justice, how do we keep ourselves going in a world where there is so much despair? What we are facing today is enormous when we consider the systemic violence that leads to wars on several fronts, climate chaos, lack of health care, housing, and food, decline of the economy, police violence against people of color, a government that is totally unresponsive to its citizens and the list goes on and on. We are living in a world that is unsustainable as things now stand.
The idea of hope is something we all grapple with when we are up against such great struggles in the world. Some people don’t like to use the word hope. Maybe it feels like a fairy tale and we don’t really believe the world can change, leaving us with a feeling of powerlessness and despair. It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless, avoiding political engagement and involvement. When we look at all that is wrong in the world today, we can rationalize and find reasons why we can’t get involved.
But hope can keep us going and working for change. Hope is not about unrealistic wishful thinking, but reminds us that we have to take action.
It is exactly in these times of despair, that we must draw inspiration from each other, see the hope in others, and keep going. Hope is what can keep us engaged in the work of activism. There are no easy answers. But we must keep acting and moving in the direction towards peace and justice, and that does require action on our part. Joan Baez said that, “Action is the antidote to despair.”
Many of us struggle with determining why we continue our work as activists. There are no easy fixes and we may not see major change in our lifetime, but the alternative is to do nothing, and for many of us that is not an option. Though it is important to maintain hope, it is also important to separate ourselves from the results of our actions because we may not see results. For me, I have found a deep inner place that calls me to this work. I trust that what I am doing makes a difference whether I can see it or not, and that gives me hope.
With this in mind, the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) is taking action on September 22 “Sowing Seeds of Hope: From Congress to the White House.”. We will confront the climate crisis, the unending wars, the root causes of poverty, and the structural violence of the military-security state. There will be an occupation of a Congressional office, followed by direct action at the White House.
We will begin at Congress, meeting in the cafeteria in the Longworth House Office Building at 9:00 am. Together we will go to Paul Ryan’s office at about 10:00 am. bringing packets of seeds, photos, or news articles of issues we want to address i.e. war, climate crisis, poverty, institutionalized violence etc.
Taking public transportation, we will reconvene at noon at the Edward R. Murrow Park in the 1800 block of Pennsylvania Ave. NW for a rally. We will process to the White House where there will be an action of nonviolent civil resistance.
This action organized by NCNR is one of more than 235 actions being organized nationwide as part of the week of actions of Campaign Nonviolence. This is a great opportunity to look at what activists are doing across the country and feel inspired and hopeful.
David Swanson and others working on World Beyond War is another growing grassroots group that can provide inspiration and hope as we continue the struggle. They lay out a plan that makes world peace truly seem possible.
Howard Zinn said:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. ”
And so I end with a feeling of hope and ever deepening commitment to continuing the struggle.
Joy First (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an organizer with the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance and Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars.