“The Philosophers have already perceived the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
If the good Dr. Marx is remembered for nothing else, it should be for the above quotation from his Theses on Feuerbach. After all, we all pontificate about one thing or another, but we’re always left with the harassing inner feeling that we spin our wheels; and nothing positive ever happens. We’re left with endless war, massive unemployment, a failed education system, a broken healthcare system that serves corporate masters over patient needs, and feelings of hopelessness. Tomorrow will be no different than yesterday, and the cycle of despondency continues. So, what can one person do? As it turns out, plenty.
For the progressive movement to grow positive self worth, I think it should be obvious that one person can only do so much. The world will not change because of one person’s action, but we often believe it should, leading to feelings of misery. The dropout rate among activists is very high, judging from my own personal experience. But, it doesn’t have to be that way if we keep our perspective psyche in order. We’ve all heard “think globally, act locally”; that’s what I mean by perspective. We can’t change the system, but we can build movements within the system. We should all think of ourselves as Johnny Appleseed, spreading the seeds of change. We’re building mass on the ground floor, understanding that the tipping point may not happen in our generation, but we need to know it will someday. Rachel Carson understood this basic concept when she wrote Silent Spring in 1962, which is largely credited with the modern environmental movement. If we believe the environment is a mess today, and it certainly is, do the research and find out where we’ve come from. We’ve come a long way, not to say we still don’t have a long way to go. The point is that Carson planted that seed, knowing full well that change wasn’t going to happen overnight, and not in her lifetime, as she died in 1964. But she had that certain faith that change should, and would happen. Not faith in a religious sense, but a deep understanding that our life will improve when people are educated that we are poisoning the planet. She understood life could be better.
So let’s talk about movement building. I’m not going to claim to be a champion of Olympic proportions in this area, but I have enough battle scars to have earned the right to speak. How about the Women’s Movement? When Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Sentiments in 1848 at the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, she very well understood, had the faith, that change would eventually transpire. “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal….” Speaking of men in power, “He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.” It wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th amendment to the constitution was signed giving women the right to vote, but those who attended that first convention weren’t thinking of themselves, they were thinking of future generations. They were selfless, strong, and full of radical spirit. They were conquerors.
We could also talk about the civil rights movement, but no need to go there. I believe the point is made. So what about movement building? Do we need to feel that we’re conquering the world? No, we don’t, because that simply isn’t possible; and that is my point exactly. When I’m with folks of like spirit, we can act in harmony, which is much more valuable than working alone, but acting in the singular is not valueless either. For example, I sincerely believe that the world would be a much better place if our community, and work place, could be much more participatory, as in participatory economics. That is my socialist vision. But I also understand it’s not happening tomorrow, and not even in my life time. Vision is vital to stay grounded and focused. It’s also vital if we are to keep perspective.
Try this experiment. Talk the language of participatory economics in discussions of a transformative society. Talk about solidarity with fellow employees; talk about balanced job complexes and sharing enlightened work as well as boring and rote work. The reason this works rests simply with the fact that I’ve never had anyone mount a challenge that such a thing is silly. Everyone agrees. If I were to interject into any conversation about a better tomorrow that we need socialism, I’d be doomed from the start. First, what do I mean by such a statement, not to mention that the very word is overflowing with emotion. No one will argue that everyone wants and needs equitable access and fulfillment. Forget about the fine details, it’s not necessary at this point. We can talk about our work being rewarding and necessary, while also understanding that it can’t always be loads of fun, and that the burden should be shared. That’s what we mean by solidarity. And this is what I mean by planting seeds. I’m very surprised at the number of people who call themselves conservative who agree with the basic tenants of a participatory society.
How about being a participatory activist? It’s not necessary to be famous in order to make a positive contribution to transforming society. A vast majority of us will never be legendary. Most of us will never be published, interviewed on TV, or give a speech to a large crowd of cheering, adoring admirers. Most of us are just “the people”, doing what we can with the tools we were born with. What I’m attempting to communicate here is simply that no matter how miniscule our contribution to movement building, it is better than sitting back in despair. Never lose sight that a small contribution is enormous compared to no contribution. The world is going to change, we may as well participate, and follow Dr. Marx’s counsel in the process.