Rebecca Solnit’s publisher was giving away free copies of “Hope in the Dark” in the days after the election, and I jumped all over it as fast as I could.
I loved Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me” which, among other things, made it clear that she is an expert on many things besides misogyny and feminism.
And boy, is she.
“Hope in the Dark,” which is an examination of the history of civil disobendience and social change, was the salve, and the inspiration/kick-in-the-butt, and the contextualizer that I needed.
It’s also really, really dense, and it took me ages to read, because I just could not read it quickly.
She’s really smart, and she’s dumbing down nothing for us, and I appreciate her for it, because what truly comes through is her deep and confident understanding and mastery of the subject, a subject that is deeply relevant and applicable during this time.
If you’ve been following Solnit’s social media since the election, you’ll know she’s mad as hell, and also that she’s never been willing to take it. She ran out of fucks a long time ago, and she knows way more than a thing or two about what’s happening and where we are in history.
My personal takeaway is that what we do on the small scale matters. Normalization of difference and humanity matters. Only once things have changed at the grass-roots level do things change at the legislative and judicial level. And most importantly: every step matters. Read the book, and she’ll explain it to you.
I’ll leave you with these bits of inspiration:
Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.
If we did more, the world would undoubtedly be better; what we have done has sometimes kept it from becoming worse.
We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its sources and foundations: these are victories. A better world, yes; a perfect world, never.
Recent strains of activism proceed on the realization that victory is not some absolute state far away but the achieving of it, not the moon landing but the flight. A number of ideas and practices have emerged that live this out. The term “politics of prefiguration” has long been used to describe the idea that if you embody what you aspire to, you have already succeeded. That is to say, if your activism is already democratic, peaceful, creative, then in one small corner of the world these things have triumphed. Activism, in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs, even if it’s a temporary and local place, this paradise of participating, this vale where souls get made.
Maybe an underlying problem is that despair isn’t even an ideological position but a habit and a reflex. I have found, during my adventures in squandering time on social media, that a lot of people respond to almost any achievement, positive development, or outright victory with “yes but.” Naysaying becomes a habit. Yes, this completely glorious thing had just happened, but the entity that achieved it had done something bad at another point in history. Yes, the anguish of this group was ended, but somewhere some other perhaps unrelated group was suffering hideously. It boiled down to: we can’t talk about good things until there are no more bad things. Which, given that the supply of bad things is inexhaustible, and more bad things are always arising, means that we can’t talk about good things at all. Ever.
Who’s ready to make change?