By Daniel Giles Helm
Jul 20, 2011
“Back in the 60’s I was an activist too, but you’ve just got to learn how to be realistic.”
These words seem to form a brick wall that many of us have run up against. The good-hearted person that just can’t help out anymore because they’ve gotten cynical or exhausted, usually after finding that, despite their best intentions, their years of fighting turned up completely fruitless. This sentiment is all the more prevalent among college communities, where professors and alumni who never left town have long ago lost their collection of comrades, most of whom found that their 4 year long sampling of activism was sufficient enough to justify discarding the personal struggle. And it isn’t that they don’t still struggle, but now they get golden stickers and pats of the back for their struggles: a speaking engagement, a promotion, or even just enough money to not cause them to have the struggles of feeding and housing their families.
But we shouldn’t assume that these feelings only linger among burnt-out hippies, sell-outs, and those who never even really “bought in.” On the contrary, those still engaging in social struggle, be it activism for social justice, subtle legal reform or the absolute destruction of capitalism, can often be found to harbor this pessimism, acting in spite of it just because there’s no other way of living that is acceptable to them.
In the words of a communiqué from the California occupation movement, “After all, what the fuck else is there to do?” Likewise we see infoshops and social spaces failing after only a few months because of lack of interest and lost energies, we see underground papers get off the ground after months of work only to publish fewer and fewer articles each release cycle, we see kids who made themselves criminals in the eyes of oppressive laws begin to act out of their hatred for the world rather than their love for its potential, and we see more and more people reaffirming their belief that radical activism is fruitless, calling for its end with comments like “you need to stop trying to ruin the Left’s name on this campus” (to which I’ll personally respond, “if I can achieve that I’ll at least know I have done something productive.”)
Most of us weren’t always this way. We began starry-eyed and ambitious, but were hardened after seeing attempt after attempt end in failure. But should we really be so surprised when our projects fail? Does falling short of our goals really entail failure? Absolutely not. When the most ambitious anti-capitalists abandon their causes in fits of frustration after a few years of intense years of involvement, though saddened, I have to find it amusing that we as a collective whole have the expectation that we actually can affect change. And perhaps we can, despite the fact that for each one of us there are tens of thousands of people fighting against us forty hours a week.
So what does one and their comrades do? The idea of acting because it’s the only way we can without hating ourselves grows draining. Stewing in our own anger and isolating ourselves from society seems no better. To merely claim that it is the best way to live despite social oppression seems to miss the point. And to only reflect on petty victories feels as though we’ve lost our course.
Instead, I propose we still be direct about our goals. Be aware that if they are achieved within the next fifty years, we should all rejoice. We shouldn’t cower from the work that these ends entail, as nasty and hard as it may be. But, we should not overlook the tiny steps we daily take. We learn how to communize relations in our communities. We talk to construction workers on campus that never realized they largely agreed with us. We help kids build bikes while they talk about the newest Lego set they wish they could afford. We learn to live more freely, even if it’s through exploiting our exploiters. We simply have honest interaction with people, be they ripe with ideology or merely personality or empathy, as these are things that both communities and the revolutionizing of social relations are fostered by.
And many will never understand or see our steps. It is likely we don’t notice most of them ourselves. But, embracing each other and fulfilling each others needs to the extent we can, we should contentedly set out upon our course, declaring “Well, what the fuck else would I do?” And, when this is inevitably misunderstood and we are told “This is Oklahoma”, “But it’s human nature”, or “it just can’t happen,” we should start our response with “This isn’t my Oklahoma, nor my nature, nor am I the one standing in its way, and if it’s yours or it’s you, then fuck you for that.”