Hope in Days of Silence

April 30, 2008

On this day in 1939, the New York’s World Fair opened with the theme “The World of Tomorrow.” The fair was attended by tens of millions, and was seen as a beacon of hope for internationalism, peace, prosperity and progress.

On this day in history, six years later, Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head in a Berlin bunker, pushing one of the most violent, nastily nationalist periods of history towards closure.

Which might seem like a depressing start to our morning in blog land, yes. But to me its not; its a reminder that history and social life can change very fast and that “the world of tomorrow “can be a very different one than the world of today, in ways that seem totally improbable and unlikely.

Today, I’m specifically holding out hope that our world of tomorrow will be one in which Black American men have no reason to fear random death-by-firing-squad at the hands of “peace” officers, and for a world in which eighth-graders have no reason to fear violent asassinations delivered by their homophobic classmates.

I find it encouraging that I am not the only one who hopes for these things. It appears that 5,000 schools had participation in this years Day of Silence aimed at drawing attention to the harassment and abuse of LGBTQQ students and in honor of Lawrence King.

And while the rally I recently attended in protest of the legal whitewash of Sean Bell’s murder (incidentally, not at all far from the site of the 1939 fair), was disappointingly small, I find it encouraging that this injustice isn’t going unnoticed–not in New York City classrooms, not in discussions at work, not in activist circles and, despite what NPR thinks, not in communities affected by police brutality.

Two reactions to the trial made me hopeful, each for different reasons:

1) Cynthia McKinney’s statement on the verdict does a great job putting Sean Bell’s murder in context, but also linked it to a call for all of us to imagine something different, and better.

2) I heard an announcement from the Queer Justice League of New York City on the radio yesterday, making connections between police harassment of queer people and police violence in communities of color. I looked up their website, and while I really know nothing about this organization, except that they have an awesome name, that also gave me hope.

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Really, its mostly the name that gives me hope. Like this postcard of the 1939 Fair’s Lagoon of Nations, the fantastical super-hero ring of “Queer Justice League” reminds me of the sometimes secret, sometimes shame-faced connections between a hopeful left-wing politics and the realm of utopia, imagination, and fantasy.

Because, of course, behind all my emphasis on hope this morning lies the stark reality that the present moment gives us little to hang our hope hats on. The movements for Black Liberation, Queer Liberation, Women’s Liberations and Workers’ Liberation are at low tide, to put it mildly. The US economy is in a world of shit, and empty rhetorical cover for a right-wing neoliberal agenda is what passes for a politics of “change” around here these days.

That’s why hope requires a different, more imaginative, engagement with the fourth dimension. I’ve previously alluded to the significance of reflection on the past and past hopes. But maintaining–building–hope, much less any communities or movements rooted in it, requires imagining, often detailed imagining of not only the past and the present, but the future as well.

This is what left-wing activists, queer communities and sci-fi geeks sometimes share–imagining a wholly different kind of economy, and/or new and liberating configurations of ‘family’, and sometimes all of the above on a yet-undiscovered planet.

Doing that can make you unpopular, yes. Perhaps it is slightly insane. And uncool. But, I am compelled to argue, its nowhere near as insane and uncool as accepting a total lack of alternatives.

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