100 Political Events in 2017: A Reflection
Yesterday, I attended my 100th political event of the year. The 100th event was a solidarity vigil for Charlottesville at the Clayton, Jackson, Mcghie Memorial in Duluth. The event was attended by several hundred people. So many people flooded the plaza that there were people in the the street. It was large enough that the police blocked off the street to passing traffic during the event against white supremacy (but framed generally as hate). We are just three years shy of the 100 year anniversary of the the lynching of three innocent African American men in Duluth. Yet, 100 years later so little has changed. Activists 100 years ago might be terrified to peek into the future and see that we are still fighting imperialist wars, hate groups like the KKK not only still exist but is actually gaining popularity, union membership is less than it was in 1920 and almost a third of what it was at its peak in 1970s, we are killing our planet, and basically…every oppressed group is …still oppressed. It would be pretty demoralizing to look ahead in time. In this long view into the future…this century long parade of violence, misery, drudgery…Trump would probably not stand out as the worst of the worst but just the latest terrible thing in the procession of suffering. Yet, I would hope that this activist of the past would see some hope. There are moments when humanity unites and fights against the tide of suffering. There are slow gains from the struggles of mass movements to rage against everything that destroys and diminishes us.
(I did not take this photo, it was posted to the Charlottesville Solidarity Vigil and I believe it was taken by Jordan Bissell)
Today was my 100th political event. Activism is not a numbers game, but I do like numbers. I know how many books I have read this year, new species of birds I have seen, the number of blogs that I have written, the number of countries I have visited, the calories I have consumed in the last 25 days, spending on food for the last several months, and many other things. So, tracking my activism is just one thing of many things that I like to keep tabs of. Numbers do not tell the whole story, but they do provide a piece of a puzzle. What can be said about 100 political events? Well, yesterday was day 227 of the year. That means that 44% of the days this year have been spent at political events such as meetings, protests, or educational political presentations/films. If I subtract the time I was out of the country on vacation- not at all engaged in politics- the number increases to 50%. That means half of my days are spent at a political event. This does not count times I spend writing political blog posts, preparing for political events by making event pages, putting up fliers, or creating fliers, having political conversations, or other political activities. Of these 100 events, approximately 46% were feminist, 13% were against racism, 10% were socialist specific, 8% were LGBTQ, 7% were non-labor specific economic justice events, 6% labor related, 5% were environmental, 4% were anti-war or anti-imperialism, 3% were criminology related, and 2% were miscellaneous. These numbers are imperfect, as some events were related to more than one category. The previous year, I attended 80 events for the WHOLE YEAR. So, it is safe to say that the election of Trump has resulted in an upsurge of political activity and opportunities to participate in social movements. I think it is also fair to say that this year has seen the emergence of far more feminist activism. While I tend to prioritize feminist events, there are far more events than I am able to attend. Locally, the most consistent and robust area of activism this year tends to be feminism…though there are plenty of opportunities in other kinds of activism as well and my numbers do not reflect the actual number of events against racism or for the environment, for instance. The numbers tell a bit more about myself than the political situation…but the general increase in activities certainly is indicative of an increase in opportunity. People are fighting back on many fronts.
What else can be said about the 100? I can say that I am a little tired! I feel accomplished. It helps keep me motivated. It also feels like hiking up a mountain and reading the elevation signs or the KM to the top. When I went on my vacation and entirely disengaged from activism and politics, it was hard to come back. I can see the appeal for the people who can’t be bothered to become engaged in social change. I can feel the hopelessness that nothing will become better so we may as live for whatever pleasures we can eke out of this existence. It isn’t always fun to go to meetings. It feels like a second job sometimes. It can feel like responsibility, stress, pressure, annoyance, etc. I feel a lot of conflicted feelings, really. I feel that it is mostly thankless and misunderstood. At the same time, I do feel a sense of accomplishment and a sense of need. I feel enough passion to continue. I feel very angry. It is anger that motivates me the most. I feel so angry that the world is so shitty for so many people. I feel angry that there are violent, horrific people who want women to live in the social equivalent of a whelping box as they breed the next generation of soldiers and workers. I feel angry that the ignorance of America’s atrocities over history and today. The stupid fear mongering over North Korea. I feel angry that white people feel victimized by a system built upon slavery, genocide, racism, and imperialism. I feel angry that there are so many people with the means to do more, but they don’t because it isn’t respectable to protest or in their immediate interest to make some waves. I wish I had more time for other things, yet I actually usually do get a lot out of activism. At the same time, I often wonder how normal people live. What do they do with their time? Then, there are some super activists who have probably been to 200 things this year! I am sure that comrades, Adam and Lucas, have probably been to more events than I have. Adam might have been to 150. They don’t write it down like I do. It isn’t a contest, of course. Activism feels a bit like a Sisyphean task. Most of the time, the results are not immediately obvious. OR, in the worst case, the stone of social change actually rolls down the mountain.
Activism isn’t always fun. Sometimes it is cold…and boring…or disappointing. Though this event actually was engaging and left me feeling hopeful.
All activists must have some sense of optimism that things can change. Even without optimism, things always change. More than optimism, activists have to believe in a sense of efficacy. That not only does change happen, but humans can and often influence this change. I have to assume that the imagined activist from 100 years ago would be disappointed if not terrified, but I would also hope that the activists today could give them hope. I suppose that it where I see myself in history. I hope that whatever future 100 years from now is better. Wouldn’t it be nice if there weren’t prisons, hunger, homelessness, or wars? What if everyone had enough? What if the planet wasn’t dying? How do we get from POINT A (this shit hole world) to POINT B (a better one)? I believe it is by trying to build movements that will change the world. I am a very minuscule part of that. But it will be made by millions of minuscule parts. So, I am telling you that I have been to 100 things so that maybe someone…out there…. will think that it is time to attend one thing. The past, present, and future might appreciate it. And, you can take it from me… one thing is not so much to do.
Just keeping the flame of hope alive…