Dear Hope

Dear Hope, 

Who the hell is Hope? Hope is, hopefully, you. But, if you are over 50, or perhaps over 40, maybe even over 30, getting into the Hope column is likely to depend on folks younger than you prodding you along and even providing paths for you to pursue. If you are over 60, like me, well, let's do our best, but the reality is that the future lies with young people. So, Hope is young people, 10, 15, 20, 25 years old. And this is a message to Hope.  

I help operate a web site, ZNet. I am told it has considerable credibility among young activists. Great, but where are the submissions? Reading is good. It matters. But to read, means others must write. Where are the young who are writing, and writing well? Some are doing it, but way too few. Why? I solicit, I urge, I prod – as do many others often even as old as me – but the flow is still only a trickle compared to what is needed. And even worse, reading, once like breathing, is now becoming a lost art that steadily dissipates into morbid disuse, save for Facebook and Twitter nuggets, which are themselves often sterile and always short. So how will insights get learned, taught, spread? 

And what about the streets? Sixty year olds – even 50 and likely also 40 year olds – cannot flood them properly. Too many ties hold us back. Health and interminable schedules interfere. Cranky perfectionism (in our own eyes only) and creaky exhaustion sabotage good intentions. Only the young can make sufficient space in their lives to detonate dissent. Only the young have sufficient vigor, sufficient numbers, sufficient mobility, and sufficient capacity for insight, wisdom, and commitment to make the world turn in new ways. Are some young trying to do so? Yes. Is it enough? Not by miles and miles. 

Okay, this may seem unfair. Some old timer – me – lucky enough to have spent his critical years in the cauldron of creativity and commitment called the sixties, berates, cajoles, entreats the young, fifty years later, for having insufficient energy, communication, activism, and construction of new movement institutions. By what standard? Surely if success is the standard, my generation didn't fully conquer it – not by a very long shot. We got off to a really impressive start, raucous and righteous. We wanted the world and we wanted it now! We did a lot, there is no denying it, but as time passed a lot of our energy and commitment passed too, until what's left is – what's left. What did we bequeath to you? Some knowledge, some memory, lots of organizations – but all pretty small – some media, some mentors, some lessons floating about. But, honestly, certainly not the world we wanted you to have. So why should I seek more from you? Where do I get off asking you for what we didn't deliver? Well, what is the alternative? 

So now, like it or not, it is your turn, Hope. Are you going to do better? Or is everyone going to die. That, it seems, is the real choice now.  

Today's trends could not be more obvious. Surveillance is stratospheric. Poverty and centralized wealth push us toward the sixteenth century. War has seemingly become life's prime want – at least when life marches to the tune set by capital and power. Massacres are commonplace. Incarceration is the new slavery. Goodbye voting, hello whining. Is that a nazi party organizing over there? You bet. And meanwhile, the oceans rise, the storms multiply. People drown, melt, freeze, or blow into the future. What's blowing in the wind now? A permanent Hard Rain. What's that sound? A blast. Die by drone. Die by missile. Die by rising tides and howling winds. Fukishima or Facebook, which is worse? There is no shortage of in-your-face evidence that it is time to act before death comes calling. In my formative years called the sixties, I was never apocalyptic like this. But now, in my sixties, paranoia is the new wisdom. What do you see in your future? Is it not apocalyptic? 

What makes it not fair to berate the young as if they are not fulfilling their destiny is that it was so much easier for my generation. So who am I to urge today's young to do what was easier in my day, and what we ultimately didn't succeed at anyhow? We had a perfect storm of innovative, inspiring, and role-breaking phenomena from hipsters to rock and roll to drugs, coupled with a daily confrontation with utterly shocking truths revealed in southern bus stations and northern riots and interminable impressions of Indochina bombarded to near oblivion. We destroyed the city to save it, again, and again. It all engendered what we then called a massive mind fuck. Synapses were rewired and there emerged unbridled anger at hypocrisy. Off we went. But let's not exaggerate. Even in those heady days, it was never everyone who went off. Indeed, it was never more than perhaps ten million, or lets even say twenty million, who even loosely identified as part of what was percolating, and only a few million who really, seriously turned on to making change – and yet that was a whole lot. And some of use even stuck with it for decades. So what is different about your situation, Hope? Why can't I just scream at you: Do it again, do it the way we did it, but better? 

The answer is, to replicate what happened then is now impossible. There is no contemporary shock at hypocrisy, nor will there be. When you hear that your every word is recorded, that the sky is falling, that drones devastate over there and are being stockpiled here too, nothing much happens. There is modest response. Ho hum. It just doesn't matter what is revealed. It doesn't really outrage folks – especially most young folks – because everyone takes for granted that things are way worse than any event ever reveals. We know they spy on everything. We know they assassinate with impunity. We know they discuss invasions like they are highway repair projects, with as much regard for human corpses as they have for rodents that get in the way of earth movers. We know they tally broken homes, starving kids, and guns traversing American schools, as signs of their victory over the population becoming too educated, too involved in anything but survival. And we say to it all, yes, sure, but what's new on TV, in the movies, at the Apple store – because, well, we can use what is new in "culture" and the commodity market, but we feel we can do nothing about what is new in the trouble tally, in the inhumanity index. Poverty climbs so that over a fifth of America's children endure it, and suffer its lifelong repercussions – and, around the world – there are billions more. Ho hum. what's new? Everyone knows that. 

So what is different now is that for Hope to take to the streets – in the millions, and not just take to the streets but carry lessons of resistance and of serious thought about desires and aims – it will take something very different than it took in the Sixties. It will take really hard work. 

Back then, when some young people on a campus went rogue – meaning, when we became criminal in the eyes of our parents, neighbors, friends, and faculty, when we became walking, talking, horribly threatening oddities – we had a place to go to look for allies. We could easily hang out wherever other young people had been already accommodated to innovation by the emerging hippie phenomenon – which was pretty much everywhere young folks congregated. The recently politicized had a giant pool of ready – and in some cases even eager – people to recruit from. That advantage that we once had is missing now. Nothing quite like it exists. There is no absolute shock and horror at revelation. That simply can't happen anymore. Everything bad is expected, and worse. There is not a naiveté to offend. And also missing is any prospect of easy organizing. Alienation at ticky tacky prospects, coupled to music becoming incendiary, coupled to people having a lot of time on their hands, created a ready army of potential partners, earlier, but that too is in the past.  

So we have to face the hard truth – for Hope to surface beyond little nooks and cranies, will take hard work. First, break passivity in oneself. Second, break passivity in others. Do this against the grain of every pressure around us, not only from the mainstream, but even from most of so-called alternative culture. In bad economic times, it is hard to break from financial accounting practices. Without doing that, however, we can't resist. Likewise, when one doubts everyone else will ever do anything, it is hard to motivate oneself to do something. Without achieving that, however, there is nothing. Third, and hardest of all, make it last: tenacious, tireless, continuous. 

But, wait, maybe I am being just a little too hard on my own entreaty. Think back again, not to 1968, but earlier, to '62 – '66. What became the sixties just a few years later had its foundations laid then – and earlier, too. And who did it? Lonely souls risking their friendships, their family ties and future, and even their health and safety, dissenting when dissent was simply unheard of. So, it is harder now, in some ways, but it is also easier in other ways. There was no megaphone with which to reach a large audience then. At the outset, hell, there were just some lonely souls. Some persisted, some burned  or sold out, but first all woke up. Maybe that is the real analogy to now. We need to wake up, not as much from utter ignorance – our plight in '62 – as from lethargic defeatism. 

But, hell, didn't we just have Occupy, and wasn't it huge? Yes, and  that's a reflection of the easier aspect. Steps 1 and 2 above were traversed, maybe not fully, but pretty much. Society's underlying cynicism about contemporary relations – and anger at contemporary crimes – provided a substrate and modern internet tools provided quick communications. And so a massive upsurge, seemingly arising from nothing, proved possible. But the issue we face isn't a one- or two-year upsurge that is unsustainable over the long haul. The issue now is for the next upsurge to deal with the third step to – staying power – because its participants – Hope – realize that the task is to construct lasting movements, lasting organization, lasting vehicles of outreach, and to construct carefully wrought and truly inspiring examples and messages.  

Can Hope do it? If we are talking possibility – the biology and even the physics of it – of course Hope can do it. But will Hope do it? I just don't know. That is going to be a matter of will, psychology, and personality. It will require the courage to be different not so much in values, as in actions, and not so much in the exciting aspect, – easy to jump on – but in the face-to-face organizing aspect, and in the reaching out to those who disagree aspect, and not so much in the celebratory aspect, as in the learning and teaching aspect. I guess we will see. 

All I can say is that this time it is not just critical that the young rebel because folks are suffering immensely – as it was five decades back – but also because there just aren't going to be more chances. Hope comes through now, or we all watch a horrendous debacle unfold planet wide. Are you going to be Hope?  

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