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Political Optimism is All I Can Do

I am part of the demographic that’s threatening to become a lost generation thanks to the economic issues we’re all facing. Optimism about the future is the only thing I know how to do right now.

It’s not so much that I look down on or dislike bitterness or people jaded by years of disappointment, because good lord are there a lot of things to be bitter and jaded about.  It’s 2011 ““ we were supposed to be so advanced as to have personal jet packs and teleportation, this erosion of education funding, to name one thing, is simply unseemly.

And there’s a lot to be scared of, I’ll grant you that. It’s awful that we live in a world where young people (me! yay!) face a national unemployment rate of over 17%. It’s awful that we live in a world where underpaid, overworked teachers are painted as the “bad guy” instead of the corporate interests manipulating the system and paying nothing in taxes. It’s awful that we live in a world where all sorts of numbers are pointing to us leaving this recession, except for unemployment, indicating that we may be entering a brave new world. Things are a big mess and it’s not awesome. I’ve started grinding my teeth in my sleep.

So far so good, but here’s where I go off with my own drummer along my own path. I’d say that most people are good people with good intentions. There are some real assholes out there and I don’t care for them and I don’t care for anyone who is trying to prevent someone from living their life in a safe and self-directed way. No dice to those folks. But like I said, most people are good people with good intentions, but sometimes, with the barrage of awful news, it’s easy to forget that.

I know a lot of good people. I know a lot of people who are fired up and passionate and care very deeply about things. They are thoughtful and intelligent and open to communication.

A short anecdote: I went to a seminar recently about youth movements and environmental justice. The speaker asked us to think about injustice and to talk about how we react to it. One guy mentioned feeling sad, and that made me realize that for me, being aware of all the crap that goes down doesn’t make me sad. I have a whole different process: I get antsy, I get angry, I get active. But in that room, I was surrounded by people who cared about the issues, who came to them differently and reacted to them differently, but who, fundamentally , cared. That gives me hope.

It gives me hope to talk to new teachers, excited about working to nurture young minds.

It gives me hope to hear about my friends training to work in sexual assault and rape crisis centers.

It gives me hope to talk to fellow scientists about their work in fighting diseases, in expanding the boundaries of our knowledge, in creating a healthy environment for us and future generations.

It gives me hope to hear about people writing their thoughts, writing to others, writing to their senators.

It gives me hope to know that people are engaged.

Progress and change is going to happen. It certainly won’t be a straightforward process, though. There will be times when gains are made and times when there are devastating losses and that sucks and that’s a fact. But where we are now is so much better than where we were a century ago. That gives me hope.

I’m not saying that pessimism is incompatible with anger and action ““ it’s just incompatible for me. I need to remind myself of what gives me hope because it is too easy to get discouraged otherwise. That’s who I am ““ overly earnest and terribly cheesy ““ but that’s not everyone (thank god, we’d be no fun at all). The only thing that I’ve learned that can be generalized is this: take in all the information you can, but do not let it overwhelm you. Do whatever works best for you ““ cynicism, positivity, whatever. Just don’t stop caring.

8 replies on “Political Optimism is All I Can Do”

Just don’t stop caring! Amen to that. I’m always afraid that I’m becoming jaded, and sometimes the things that I write seem that way, but that’s only because I’m so focused on growth and change and I like that nature reminds us that death, decomposition and deterioration are the foundations of change. So when I look at the world, that’s what I keep telling myself though I still do have that cabin on the mountain ready for me, I haven’t given up on humanity yet. I just wish we’d stop running away from our problems and creating new ones and just deal with already! That part is frustrating. I haven’t had a lot of great examples of human nature in my own personal life, but I know that there are good people in the world who mean well, primarily because I am in the world and there has to be more people like me!
Plus, whenever I think human beings have sunk to their lowest I am given an example of how great we can be. I’m kind of a crazy mixture of optimism and realism, that plus I just don’t WANT to be jaded. So I’m with you and I’m hopeful too!

I get optimism and hope from rage. Sounds contradictory, but it’s related. So called “rageiness”, what we internet users feel about certain issues, is a fire that keeps passions alive. But being on fire isn’t enough because you will get burned, and burned out. From that passion though is the knowledge that there is a complementary style to your own. And it’s a matter of being with others who complement you, so you can support each other, recharge your souls and minds.

It’s critical that we understand how we manifest our rage. Much of it is inherited, a legacy from our fathers and mothers (extended meaning here), which we as children carry with us. Once you have a good grasp of how your passions are shaped by your personal narrative then it’s easier to remove yourself from the pile on of negativity. Because again rage can burn you out.

Universal love is the goal. That doesn’t mean we will embrace all our enemies and their causes in a circle singing Kumbaya, but we can use that energy to build and foster wholesome relationships, create bridges.

These are ideas that I learned while attending a workshop on rage for activists.

I feel a bit of the way that Anna Carey does. I used to watch and the news all the time, but I found myself getting agitated and frustrated. I remember speaking with my parents many times about my frustrations with the state of our country. Their response was always “do something about it….write to your senator”. Their response highlighted the very source of my frustrations. I believe our political machine has been corrupted by the high and mighty so much that a letter from me, that will probably be read then deleted or tossed by some underpaid-overworked intern will have absolutely no effect. And really – what can I do? Seriously? Someone tell me what I can do to actually effect positive change? I am a stay-at-home with 3 small children and a husband who works serious overtime. I can’t afford childcare for my kids while I go on a crusade, and you can only bum babysitting from your friends so much. I cannot simply drop my my responsibilities, just like any working individual can’t. I would love to devote the meager free time I have to ‘righting wrongs’ and ‘making change’. I know why I should, but I don’t how I should. I feel like we don’t have many ‘leaders of the people’ that we can throw our passions and efforts behind, who can show us the way and give us work that will bring us o our goals. It is that very frustration that has lead me to filter out the news. Its not that I don’t care. It’s that I care too much and feel powerless to do something about it.

I can relate to the feeling of powerlessness. Here is what worked for me. I am not saying it will work for everyone, and like most of what I do/believe in, it’s pretty cheesy.

Change can happen in big jumps, led by dynamic people, quickly revolutionizing the world. That is awesome, and exciting, and makes for some really wonderful stories (not in a disparaging way, just in that it’s easy to write about and talk about).

But change can also happen slowly and gradually and on a small scale, and that change is every bit as meaningful and real, too. My own growth through my education (both formal and informal) of the things that matter to me signifies my personal change, and that’s important to me. My parents’ goal of raising a girl who doesn’t see math and science as things Not For Girls didn’t end sexism, but it created another person who was unwilling to accept the bullshit status quo. That’s pretty important. Everyone who talks about the issues they care about and lives their life in a way that is in harmony with what they believe in is in some way advocating for and creating change.

I don’t mean to say that someone shouldn’t strive to do more, but there’s a lot to be said for people who re working within their communities, within their families, to create a more positive and welcoming generation of people. You don’t have to lead rallies to make change (but fuck yeah to all those actively organizing and leading rallies and walks and all that), but I think you have to live in a way that works for you and best embraces the values that you hold dear.

I guess I’m an “every little bit counts” type of person, because you’re very much right – it’s easy to care so much and yet feel so powerless.

Oh Lordy lordy. Reading this makes me feel recharged. Personally, I’ve gone from being optimistic to scared to angry all the time to screaming at the tv to just blocking everything out because it just gets to heavy sometimes. Anger is good, but hope is a better, more dangerous weapon.

I fear detachment – when you begin to look at things so critically that they just become factoids or words that represent something. I see activist friends who have been working for years and they have a bit of this – especially with those in social work. Sometimes it gets so intense that people have to shut down for their own well being, something that isnt really talked about in social justice – while the world needs you to work to make it more accessible, more inclusive, fair and better, it also needs you at your best.

I’ve just been agreeing with you left and right these past few days.

Sometimes it gets so intense that people have to shut down for their own well being, something that isnt really talked about in social justice – while the world needs you to work to make it more accessible, more inclusive, fair and better, it also needs you at your best.

This is such an incredibly important point to make, and one which I completely failed to make. Thank you.

I sometimes have a very, very hard time with caring. Caring hurts, because when you pay attention, you get socked every. single. day. with the crap that’s going on. It’s sometimes really, really hard to care. Sometimes I do take breaks–the latest one nearly a month long–where I just don’t read the news and block all the topics that rile me up from tumblr and just live in a secluded little world where bad things aren’t happening. Because knowing they’re happening? It sucks. I always come back, because I’m not the sort of person who can keep living shut away like that, but if I don’t take the breaks, I end up devastated and despairing.

I’m finding it hard to fault the people who can’t do the caring thing anymore.

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