Readings from the Book of Hope Part II
This is the second in a series of exerpts from this book. I have felt lately that there is an undercurrent of despair and discouragement right now on the web, the feeling that a whole lot more of bad will come down the pike before the good starts flowing again. There is a basis for Hope. We all have to find it.
...Some of it is a matter of how we tell our stories, the problem of expectation.
On April 7, 2003, ... several hundred peace activists came out at dawn to picket the gates of a company shipping armaments to Iraq from the docks in Oakland, California. The longshoreman's union had vowed not to cross our picket line. The Police arrived in riot gear and, unprovoked and unthreatened, began firing wooden bullets and beanbags of shot at the activists. They had been instructed to regard us as tantamount to terrorists: "You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that [protest]," said Mike Van Winkle of the California Justice Department. "You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act." Three members of the media, nine longshoremen, and fifty activists were injured. I saw bloody welts the size of half grapefruits on the backs of some of the young men - they had been shot as they fled - and a swelling the size of an egg on the jaw of a delicate yoga instructor. Told that way, violence won.
But the violence also inspired the union dock workers to form a closer alliance with antiwar activists and underscored the connections between local and global issues. On May 12, we picketed again, with no violence. This time, the longshoremen acted in solidarity with the picketers and, for the first time in memory, the shipping companies cancelled a work shift rather than face protest. Told that way, the story continued to unfold, and we grew stronger.
And there's a third way to tell it. The April 7 picket stalled a lot of semi trucks. Some of the drivers were annoyed. Some - we talked to them - sincerely believed that the war was a humanitarian effort. Some of them - notably a group of South Asian drivers standing around in the morning sun looking radiant - thought we were great. After the picket was broken up, one immigrant driver honked in support and pulled over to ask for a peace sign for his rig. I stepped forward to pierce holes in it with my pocket knife so he could bungee-cord it to the truck's grille. We talked briefly, shook hands and he stepped up into the cab. He was turned back at the gates. They weren't accepting deliveries from antiwar truckers. When I next saw the driver, he was sitting on a curb all alone behind police lines, looking cheerful and fearless. Who knows what has or will come of the spontaneous courage of this man with a job on the line?
Recently, a mainstream media outlet refused a political ad from a progressive organization, against an incumbent, and we were stymied. It's getting harder and harder to be heard in the United States. The progressive organization turned around and hired trucks with megaphones and signs, and ran them all around town to get the word out. It sometimes takes just a little imagination.
The only certainty to life is death. I was always impressed with the line in a long forgotten western : "Today is a good day to die"
That clarity of purpose, that willingness to resist oppression with everything you've got, well - it made a strong impression on a little girl.
From Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit. It's a great book, I highly recommend it.