We may be living through times of unprecedented change, but in uncertainty lies the power to influence the future. Now is not the time to despair, but to act
Your opponents would love you to believe that its hopeless, that you have no power, that theres no reason to act, that you cant win. Hope is a gift you dont have to surrender, a power you dont have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isnt enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.
In 2003 and early 2004, I wrote a book to make the case for hope. Hope in the Dark was, in many ways, of its moment it was written against the tremendous despair at the height of the Bush administrations powers and the outset of the war in Iraq. That moment passed long ago, but despair, defeatism, cynicism and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed, even as the most wildly, unimaginably magnificent things came to pass. There is a lot of evidence for the defence.
Coming back to the text more than a dozen tumultuous years later, I believe its premises hold up. Progressive, populist and grassroots constituencies have had many victories. Popular power has continued to be a profound force for change. And the changes we have undergone, both wonderful and terrible, are astonishing.
This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It is also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both. The 21st century has seen the rise of hideous economic inequality, perhaps due to amnesia both of the working people who countenance declines in wages, working conditions and social services, and the elites who forgot that they conceded to some of these things in the hope of avoiding revolution. The attack on civil liberties, including the right to privacy, continues long after its global war on terror justifications have faded away.
Worse than these is the arrival of climate change, faster, harder and more devastating than scientists anticipated. Hope doesnt mean denying these realities. It means facing them and addressing them by remembering what else the 21st century has brought, including the movements, heroes and shifts in consciousness that address these things now. This has been a truly remarkable decade for movement-building, social change and deep shifts in ideas, perspective and frameworks for large parts of the population (and, of course, backlashes against all those things).
It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It is also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse one. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivety, the Bulgarian writer Maria Popova recently remarked. And Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, early on described the movements mission as to Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation, rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams. It is a statement that acknowledges that grief and hope can coexist.
The tremendous human rights achievements not only in gaining rights but in redefining race, gender, sexuality, embodiment, spirituality and the idea of the good life of the past half-century have flowered during a time of unprecedented ecological destruction and the rise of innovative new means of exploitation. And the rise of new forms of resistance, including resistance enabled by an elegant understanding of that ecology and new ways for people to communicate and organise, and new and exhilarating alliances across distance and difference.