Jul 10, 2020

Whistling in the Dark

The day the Ampatuans were convicted and sentenced to life in prison happens to be the same day that Donald Trump was officially impeached in Washington. My eldest grandson, a very promising journalist, was jubilant.

For some reason, I have the feeling that 2020 will be an auspicious year, at least on some levels. I feel like new projects, health, and relationships will thrive, maybe significantly. But on the other hand, the world situation — and this will impact all of us of course — looks quite grim. We are already seeing the results of terrible climate degradation in reduced water supplies, horribly destructive fires now in Australia (with at least half a million animals dead) and earlier in California. Political futures are frightening as Trump, certain of acquittal by the Senate in his impeachment trial, moves closer to war in Iran and campaigns for another four years in office; Duterte works to erode confidence in Vice President Robredo, making way for Bong Bong Marcos to slide into position as vice president and then president.

The day the Ampatuans were convicted and sentenced to life in prison happens to be the same day that Donald Trump was officially impeached in Washington. My eldest grandson, a very promising journalist, was jubilant. He is an ace journalist and knew, for sure, that the world was not about to change course: the magic would not, and could not last.

Yet these two little victories are still victories, and they were hard-fought. They represented small successes for people on the ground who decided not to be passive and look the other way in the face of abuse of power, people who didn’t give up, didn’t care what the struggle cost them.

So one question for the new year is what can we hope for? How does hope for a better future work exactly? Is hope simply foolish Polyana optimism, or is it a responsible, productive attitude?

Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark provides the hopeful among us with a rationale, even a work plan, to move forward. For Solnit, “Hope just means another world might be possible — not promised, not guaranteed.” But no, this does not mean it is wise or justified, to sit back and pass the wine around, hoping for an absolute miracle. That’s not the way it works. Hope, in the context of a world of possibilities, is a call to action, a call to take a part in making that new and possible future.

That means starting projects if you think some particular social service is missing or putting on a pressure campaign like that which preceded the passage of the Reproductive Health Law, or writing letters and joining demos against corrupt politicians. Or Boycotting illicit or harmful businesses.

Don’t decide right off the bat that these little efforts won’t do any good; you cannot guess the effects of actions you take. Solnit cites an incident in which a woman she interviewed after a small demo in the rain in the 1960s — a demo against the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and their tyrannical right-leaning practices — confided that she felt a bit foolish and futile, demonstrating in the rain with few people to witness. But later the same woman heard Dr. Benjamin Spock, a well-known child care expert whose voice carried a good deal of weight, say that he had witnessed a small group of women demonstrating in the rain, and their commitment had made him rethink some major political issues.

And don’t give up too soon! Social and political change always takes time! Solnit mentions one failed campaign for a nuclear freeze which just wasn’t going to happen. Activists went home disappointed. Yet ten years later some major progress against nuclear activity was made. But in current times the threat is back, to graver and graver degrees. In the Philippines, we got rid of one dictator in 1986, and then we all rested satisfied — and now we have another dictator. It’s always too soon to go home. Unfortunately, you can’t just take action and be done with it — at the very least you have to monitor and go back to the streets if necessary. Our experience with the Reproductive Health Law is similar. The bill became law but the law is constantly under threat and being seriously watered down. It’s always too soon to go home.

Hope is the possibility of something good, but we all have to work to make something wonderful happen — and even then we have to maintain these successes.

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