Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rebecca Solnit makes a valuable contribution, but much more needs to be said

Rebecca Solnit has an article in The Guardian reviewing the current political crises in the United States. It will be most helpful to people who need to catch up with the news and take, or regain, a long view of where we're at. Really, as Solnit says, we're not only not losing, but we're also moving forward. Many of us can't see the forward motion because we're so busy making it happen, and others can't see it because they give in to the despair and powerlessness propagated by society's leading institutions--the government, the media, religious institutions, political leadership, cultural figures. Our progress is fragile and unsteady, but it's real and it's reflected through and across the political spectrum.
Solnit is an engaging author and speaker. If you are not familiar with her work, you're missing something.
Solnit says the following in The Guardian:
All of this is to say that there is tremendous opposition from many kinds of groups, institutions, and individuals, here and abroad. This doesn’t mean there isn’t suffering and loss. I’ve heard from great organizers who are heartbroken and exhausted; I know Muslims who are fearful; an undocumented woman whose father has been imprisoned by Ice. I am horrified by the defunding of programs to prevent Aids internationally, which could result in a million deaths. And the brutality is real.

I’ve also talked to everyday citizens who have become activists and longtime organizers who are doing extraordinary things, and who are exhilarated by the solidarity and the possibility – of what we have become together, and of what they themselves have become.

Taking action is the best cure for despair. I’ve listed a little of what officials in the judiciary and legislative branch are doing, the shifts in the media, the response overseas. But it’s the residents of the United States whose response will matter most in the end.

Civil society awoken and arisen is a power adequate to counter the power of an increasingly isolated, confused, frightened and bumbling administration.

Many are organizing now to change the direction of the country in the midterm elections. In Utah, Mormon women have organized in solidarity with undocumented families. Philadelphians are training to disrupt deportation raids on undocumented immigrants.
In Southern California, a Latino-Muslim alliance started a project called Taco Trucks at Every Mosque, timed to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan. The group Common Defense unites veterans and military families for civil rights and against the Trump agenda. Queer, trans, and feminist groups have proliferated. Earlier this year, Muslims raised $100,000 to repair a Jewish cemetery in St Louis.

There are far more generous-hearted such project than I can list, strengthening ties far beyond tolerance, restating the case for environmental protection and social justice including feminism, trans rights, immigrant rights. And there is a level of engagement with electoral politics the likes of which I have never seen, pushing on legislation and pressuring politicians, supporting progressive candidates, including many people of color and women running for the first time.

First-time candidate Danica Roem, a transgender journalist, beat three other candidates to win a Democratic primary in Virginia and may beat a Republican homophobe for a seat in the state assembly. This activism needs to be sustained, and it needs to be strategic. It needs to address voting rights, and midterm elections, and it needs to remember all the powers and possibilities that lie in activism beyond electoral politics as well. So far so good.

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard told me that they don’t have to try to recruit or inform people anymore, that they can’t “answer the phones fast enough”; that people are showing up ready to try to change the world. She said everything groups like hers have been doing for decades “was all practice for this moment”.

People like to predict the future, often a dismal future, but the future is not written. It is ours to write. In this moment of utter turmoil, civil society must be the counter to a rogue administration, one whose victory is a surprise equaled by its myriad defeats ever since.

A crisis, says one dictionary, is “the point in the progress of a disease when a change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death; also, any marked or sudden change of symptoms, etc.” This crisis could be the death or the recovery of a more democratic, more inclusive, more generous America. Where we go from here is up to us.

The problem is that after all of this hope, and after her great layout of objective facts which can't be contested and her justifiable warnings, Solnit really isn't telling us how to "deal the final blow." She is giving us places to start from---but then what? If the forces she mentions don't unite in some kind of common front, if that front isn't led by women and people of color and LGBTQIA+ people and people from the working class, if there isn't an inside/outside strategy which is moved from the streets and the communities and the workplaces, then we will likely win some compromises and then be hard put upon by the forces of reaction and experience a defeat. This isn't inevitable--nothing is. But if we're talking about dealing a "final blow" to the enemies of social progress then we need the maximum amount of unity, leadership from the aforementioned groups, and political instruments---a common front, a party, organizations which can manage power at the very base of society where it matters most---to see this through.   

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