Hope, Lies and Making Change

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, January 15, 2017

I was up early as usual yesterday morning to sneak in a little quiet reading time before heading off to set up for our local monthly recycling drive we’ve been operating for 28 years. It was chilly (14 degrees) and dark when I loaded up our 1999 Ford Ranger, 4-cylinder truck with our material before swinging by the elementary school to load some of their recycled paper, tin and plastic to our drive site.

This monthly adventure allows me to catch the national NPR show, On the Media, which is unfortunately the only time I ever hear it. Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone have been doing this always thoughtful and reflective show for many years.

Since the truck was not yet warmed up I had the heater fan off, which made listening to it easier. Before I got to the school they aired a segment that inspired this blog post. Bob Garfield was demonstrably depressed by the state of our politics and the press and he was trying to cope with it. Wherein a colleague referred him to a book by Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark. [Those of you who may been occasional readers of this blog will note that name, and even that book, from which I have added one of my favorite quote, which I’ll add at the end. Here’s another blog post that excerpts a quote from a 2013 essay or this one from a post-2016 election essay.]

Image result for rebecca solnit

But Garfield went further than just trying to summarize the book. The colleague suggested he contact Solnit to see what she had to say and therein lies the reason for this blog. I have never heard Rebecca Solnit. I knew that she was one of my favorite writers – penetrating, lyrical, powerful and unafraid to stare into dark corners of our world. But Solnit is not simply a writer. She is also an activist and it is from that personal engagement that the fire and power of her writing emerges. I was somewhat anxious that she would not be as powerful a speaker, especially in an interview environment. Some people we know write beautifully, but speaking live on the spur of the moment doesn’t allow for the editing that good writing does.

Not to worry, despite a very different voice than I expected, the exchange with Garfield, by both of them was uplifting in ways I cannot give adequate words to. The 11-minute audio track from the show is a necessary vaccination for all progressives as we enter the dark times. Please take the time to listen to this segment. I also suggest those of you who have access to On the Media through your local NPR station, add it to your regular diet of listening.

Below is a quote I have used in many talks and in many things I have written. If by the time you get this far in the blog you have not listened to the interview with Garfield, perhaps reading this tiny excerpt from the same book that inspired Bob Garfield to call her for an interview, this might nudge you to do so. I believe you will be glad you did.

     Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army.         It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away a stone, an                 earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a                 movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people             change the world; sometimes they start a movement and millions do; sometimes         those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change                 comes upon us like a change of weather. All of these transformations have in               common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s         to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and               uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is             the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. At the beginning of his massive 1930s treatise on hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, “The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong.” To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable. 

             –Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark,

If you need an extra boost here’s a link to Stand Up (and Be Strong) by Keb Mo

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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