Things that give me hope

1.) New York’s Youth Poet Laureate, Ramya Ramana, reading her poem titled “New York City” at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inauguration (transcript available here):

When I watch this young woman read, I can almost believe that change is possible. That the tides are turning. That we, the people, can and will rise.

Not just because of the beauty and fierceness and demand for justice that shines so clearly through her performance–although that alone is enough to blow me away.

But because this beauty and fierceness and demand for justice takes place at the swearing-in of a new mayor in the city that is America’s heart. The city that has been sanitized and stratified by 12 years of Bloomberg’s neoliberal policies. The city that has become an extreme–and extremely visible–symbol of an economic system that crushes lives and spirits.

The city that refuses to give up fighting.

In that fight, I see a world of new beginnings.

2.) Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “The arc of justice and the long run: hope, history, and unpredictability.”

Solnit argues that “[s]ometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.” She gives examples of social and political seeds that germinated for years, decades, even centuries before bearing fruit: the role of hip-hop in the Arab Spring uprisings; the influence of Thoreau’s writing, which sold few books when he was alive, on both Gandhi and King; the effect that a seeing a talented black trumpet player had on a young man who grew up to help end segregation by aiding the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education.

She also makes a crucial distinction between optimism and hope (something near and dear to my heart):

Optimism says that everything will be fine no matter what, just as pessimism says that it will be dismal no matter what. Hope is a sense of the grand mystery of it all, the knowledge that we don’t know how it will turn out, that anything is possible. It means recognizing that the sound of a trumpet at a school dance in Austin, Texas, may resound in the Supreme Court 20 years later; that an unfortunate hike in the borderlands might help turn two countries away from war; that Edward Snowden, a young NSA contractor and the biggest surprise of this year, might revolt against that agency’s sinister invasions of privacy and be surprised himself by the vehemence of the global reaction to his leaked data; that culture which left Africa more than 200 years ago might return to that continent as a tool for liberation — that we don’t know what we do does.

It’s hard to feel hopeless in the face of such wild mystery.

It’s hard to hold onto the paralyzing fear that nothing will ever change–that all of human civilization is rushing off a cliff at an unstoppable speed–in the face of so much evidence that change happens, gradually and then suddenly, in ways no one can predict.

Her essay reminds me so much of David Roberts’ thoughts on climate change and chaos theory (which I posted about a few months ago):

Will unexpected, rapid changes in coming decades be good or bad, positive or negative? That depends on millions of individual choices made in the interim. Some of those choices, if they happen at just the right moment, could be just the perturbations that spark cascading changes in social, economic, or technological systems. Some of those choices, in other words, will be incredibly significant.

Which ones? That we cannot know. It could be any of them, any time. Precisely because we cannot know — because any one of our choices might be the proverbial butterfly’s wings — we must act. We must take advantage of every affordance, grasp every opportunity. We don’t know when history might unlock the door, so we have no choice but to keep pushing on it.

We don’t know.

Nothing is more hopeful than that simple statement.

In 2014, I resolve to live in the uncertainty.  To push on doors, to fight, to write, to do my tiny part in planting the seeds of the change I wish to see in the world.

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