Choose Hope

Feb 28, 2017 • by Kelly J. Baker

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In early February, I attended an organizing meeting for the local branch of the Women's March. They're creating a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Women's Way Forward, to channel energy from the marches in Florida cities into political action. I attended mostly to see what the organizers planned for their fledgling organization. I'm working out what my activism is, or rather, what I want my activism to be. I figured this organization could be a potential opportunity.

Much to Resist

Frankly, I feel exhausted since the new president took office; my attention has been pulled in 20 different directions as I catch up on the news each day. The onslaught of executive orders and Cabinet picks makes it hard to figure out what to pay attention to and how to react. There's much to protest. There's much to resist. I haven't been able to select one or two issues for my own activism. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the current administration. It's easy to let the overwhelm keep me, and maybe you too, from acting.

While I plan to keep calling my senators and representative (or maybe start faxing them since I hate the phone) and voicing my dissent about the current administration, I'm also committed to local action. What can I do to keep my city safe for the most vulnerable among us? What can we do to make sure our local communities not only reflect our values but also protect the civil liberties of all people?

Much to Fear

Arriving late to the organizing meeting, I found that the parking lot for the church where the meeting was being held was almost completely full. In the sanctuary, every pew was filled with women (and some men), who ranged from toddlers to college students to middle-aged folks and retirees. As the organizer explained the vision for the nonprofit (modeled after the mission of the Women's March on Washington) of diversity, inclusion, freedom and protection for the vulnerable, I scanned the crowd, which was mostly white. But there were also many women of color. The large turnout (200 to 300 people) surprised me. The organizing meeting was an introduction to the Women's Way Forward platform, including focus areas: safe and affordable health care; the environment; free and equal education for all; legal, social and economic justice for all races; fair and equitable treatment of all immigrants; LGBTQIA+ civil rights; and economic justice for all.

After the introduction, there were the breakout sessions on particular issues (I chose racial justice). In every session, each participant was to tell our groups what they fear, why they were here and what gives them hope. As I waited my turn and listened to other participants, I realized, once again, how much there was to fear. Some fears were like mine; others weren't. I tried to come up with one fear, but all of my fears loomed large. Shifting in the uncomfortable metal chair, I figured out that I'm terrified that our nation is going to re-enact the historical hatred and violence that I study, on a large scale. I'm terrified we're moving backward. In my bleakest moments, I worry if we'll survive.

Still There's Hope

But as I took deep breaths to calm my racing heart, I listened to each member of our circle recite their hopes. There's power in choosing hope over fear. I thought of Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark: Untold Stories, Wild Possibilities (2005, 2016). In these unrelenting days, I think often of Solnit's vision of hope and our own abilities to act. Solnit's slim book shows that hope is not the naïve optimism that everything will get better, but rather hope admits that “we don't know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.”

Hope imagines that the future is anything but certain, and our actions, our activism, can change the future in ways neither predictable nor guaranteed. Revolutions begin with hope for a different future, a different world; resistance and activism begin with hope, and anger too. Hope gives us a kick in the pants and makes us act; fear overwhelms and keeps us stationary. We still need hope.

So, what gives me hope?

  • The Women's March on Washington (including sister marches around the nation). The largest protest in U.S. history had an estimated 2.9 million marchers. In Tallahassee, I marched with my husband and children, in the rain, with 14,000 other people. The three-year-old still chants “My body, my choice,” while the eight-year-old prefers “When I say people, you say power. People! Power!”
  • Local progressive women. A group of women activists invited me to join them for lunch each week to strategize about how to respond to our current political climate. They're helping me find networks of activists in my city while we also plan demonstrations and mini-actions. We're women standing up.
  • Citizens who act. Protests at airports nationwide against the Muslim ban. Artists making protest signs for marches and demonstrations. Marchers occupying state capitols to support health care and climate change. Everyone who calls, faxes or writes their senators. All the people who protest and dissent.

All of these activists give me hope. People give me hope. And I will continue to choose hope, no matter how large my fears. What will you choose, readers?

Until next month,

—KJB

By Kelly J. Baker
Published: Feb 28, 2017