By Ben Barker / Deep Green Resistance Wisconsin
We’ll need a miracle to save the world, and the only miracle we’re going to get is us. Right now, we—as in life on this planet we—are losing. That nobody wants to say this out loud doesn’t change its truth: we are losing, and badly.
For all the tireless marching, writing, petitioning, film-making, and purification of our lifestyles, how much destruction has actually—in the real world, not just our hearts and minds—been stopped?
We are losing. No one wants to say this out loud. Every impassioned conversation, book, and documentary film seems to follow the same wishful script: things are bad—okay, things are really bad—and while that’s certainly not good, it doesn’t change the fact that we are actually winning, that our individual actions are making a difference, that hearts and minds are changing, that we’re on the cusp of a great turning, that sustainability is upon us. All this whether the greedy or ignorant like it or not.
With our hands up in the air, who will do the work to make sure this future turns to reality? It’s easy to be optimistic in the cradle of privilege. It’s easier to look out the window and see winds of change when that window isn’t found in a sweatshop or prison complex. Those who feel firsthand the destruction of life—of democracy, community, freedom, landbase, and bodily integrity—do not have this luxury; they cannot pretend justice is now, or will be, prevailing when every day is testament of the opposite.
Many on the Left would call this cynicism. They would say it reflects a negative attitude. They would say negative attitudes don’t get us anywhere. They fail to mention what will.
The first step to not losing is to admit that we are. Cynicism is defined as a “feeling of distrust.” We would all agree that it is distrustful of humanity to imagine that we can do nothing. But it is also distrustful of our own collective power to lie about our dire situation and stake the future of the planet on mere hope and prayer.
We are losing. Most of the world’s old-growth forests, prairies, and large ocean fish have been wiped out. Indigenous species—including human beings—are under perpetual assault. Every river in the world is contaminated with carcinogens. 27 million people live in slave conditions. One in four women are raped and less than 10 in 100 perpetrators spend even one night in jail. The richest 1% own more wealth than the poorest 95%. One in nine African-American men are incarcerated. Nearly half a million farmers in India have committed suicide after having their livelihoods destroyed by multinational corporations. Every moment, every hour, every day, every year, it all gets worse.
In giving up the fantasies of some inevitable paradigm shift and subsequent global salvation—however good the fantasies may make us feel—another option reveals itself: actually changing the world. There is no shortcut to the nitty-gritty work of organizing, mobilizing, and taking action. Those not blinded by privilege know this all too well.
Despite intricate visions of what is to come, the activists so quick to employ lullabies in the place of concrete action are in fact doing a great disservice to the struggle. For those actively engaged in challenging unjust power certainly need encouragement, yes, and certainly need the assurance of knowing a better world is on the other side, yes, but they do not need to be lied to and they do not need reality watered down. Calling this a disservice is an understatement. Activists betray the oppressed they claim to stand for by promising a future they won’t act to create. They are witnessing a crime—be it land theft, rape, white supremacy, gay-bashing, or ecocide—and doing precisely nothing, safe in the excuse of a sweet, imagined tomorrow. It doesn’t get much more cynical than that.
We are losing. Where is the evidence showing this is not the case? The world isn’t dying from a lack of righteous rhetoric or symbolic action; it’s dying from the largest campaign of exploitation staged by the most unholy of alliances between the richest 1%. More, it’s dying because we aren’t doing anything about it. Setting good and pure thoughts aside, we haven’t even really begun to do anything about it.
Admitting to the vastness of the odds we face does not imply giving up. On the contrary, it is a sobering reassurance that there is much work to be done. It is an obligation for each of us to act. As Lierre Keith puts it, “any institution built by humans can be taken apart by humans.” We may be losing, but this does not mean we can’t start fighting back; it doesn’t mean there aren’t those who already have. Indeed, it is the underprivileged that lack the naivety—and, indeed, the cynicism—about the possibility of social change who have been most courageously engaged in it.
Ours is not a happy story. But while scene after scene depicts ever more loss, the ending has not yet been written. This is not cause for guessing what will happen. This is cause for fighting like hell to make sure it includes a living planet.
Members of the dominant culture—including the most progressive and well-meaning of us—teeter between cynicism and blind hope. When we feel despair, it’s all we can do to desperately explain it away by conceding to our own powerless: the problems are too big, so we may as well give up. On the flip side, we see a glimmer of humanity beneath the haze of apathy and conclude a revolution is nigh. Neither impulse serves our struggle.
Right now, we are losing. We need to not be so cynical as to pretend this loss is inevitable and not so idealistic as to pretend that we can wish our way to victory. Change happens when we fight for it. To begin this fight, we’ll have to at least be honest about our predicament: those on the side of a just, sustainable world are losing to those who would destroy it. This means we need to try harder.
It took five centuries for the Irish independence movement to break the stranglehold of British colonial rule. Every generation passed down the struggle to the next one; they passed down a culture of resistance and the understanding that this fight is a long haul. Other resistance movements have shared the same courage and determination, struggling for years and years to taste justice, persisting even when all seemed lost.
We too often forget our own history. Far from five centuries, today’s activists can barely manage five minutes without gratifying results. Worst of all, these (non-)actions reflect their unfounded expectations and, when change invariably doesn’t show, they give up.
Denying reality because it’s hard. Promising results without any plan of action to see them through. These are the qualities of children, not a strategy for success. As Frederick Douglass so bravely said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men [and women] who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”
The rest of the world beckons activists of privilege to see past our blinders, past our cynical apathy, and open our hearts to reality, however uncomfortable it may be. It’s time to say this out loud: we are losing. It’s time to make a promise and dedicate our lives to seeing it through: we will win.
Beautiful Justice is a monthly column by Ben Barker, a writer and community organizer from West Bend, Wisconsin. Ben is a member of Deep Green Resistance and is currently writing a book about toxic qualities of radical subcultures and the need to build a vibrant culture of resistance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Swedish translation of this article is available at: http://djupgron.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/berattigad-till-forlust/