One example, which is in the news all the time, is this question of health care. Is universal health care impossible? It’s absolutely not impossible; it’s practiced in many, many places in the world. But when we end up in a debate about Obamacare or Trumpcare or reverting to predatory capitalism at its worst, [progressives] lose the discussion. And I don’t want to lose that discussion or any other.
The eight issues that I end up writing about — things like health care, education, prisons, war and peace — each one of these is something that’s absolutely within our reach, absolutely possible. But we have to step outside the debates as they’re on offer.
[Well], I’m 72 years old [and] I feel like I’m like a kindergartener learning at the feet of Black Lives Matter, learning at the feet of [the] Standing Rock [movement], learning at the feet of the Women’s March. I don’t think that any of those movements need to try to look to the elders to understand what’s going on. I think we need to look to [activist movements] to discover new avenues of courage and commitment and intersectionality, which is a term I didn’t know a couple years ago that I now know. It was taught to me by young people, dammit.
My whole life I’ve felt like the so-called '60s is mostly myth and symbol. Part of the problem with the myth of the '60s is that it acts as a wet blanket on activists today. Anybody who says “I wish I lived in the '60s” is missing the point. We’re living now, and I’m living now. … We are here, and we are together. … Let’s join up and work together.
The activists aren’t just starting from scratch on November 9th or 10th or even January 21st. Activism has been with us. ... There’s a thousands points to enter and become part of that. No one should feel left out, no one should feel that they can’t find their way in. Everybody in, nobody out, and that’s how we’re going to move forward.
The rhythm of power discrediting activism and opposition is always the same. I think Ghandi was one of the first to name the rhythm of that discrediting. ... [He] said it very beautifully. He said "They ignore [us], they ridicule [us], they beat us up, and then we we win."
Now, it’s not quite that easy, but it is true that the way we maintain a sense of the importance of what we’re doing is in part to have a vision of where we’re going [and] in part to rely on each other. Not to see the standard of what we’re doing reflected in The New York Times or on NPR or anywhere else. It has to be closer than that.
A very important question about activism is a pedagogical question — did we teach anyone anything by what we just did? Did we learn anything? If we taught and we learned the action was likely a good thing, regardless of what [people in] power say about it. If we didn’t learn and we didn’t teach, and all we did was rely on how we looked on the news, that’s a terrible standard for judging our activism or our ability to build a movement.
I don’t think we can predict the future. One of the ways that some people say it is, we should be optimists of the heart and pessimists of the head. In other words, I’m not stupid. So I can look at the world and see that the forces of reaction and the forces of xenophobia and war and racism and white supremacy are, in many ways, on the rise.
[But] optimists, like pessimists, think they know what’s happening or what’s coming. I have no fucking idea what’s coming. And because I have no idea, I choose to get up every morning with hope, and that gives me energy.
The day before Rosa Parks sat in on the bus, nobody knew that was coming. Anyone who thinks they did is fooling themselves. There was an activist movement in the South that had gone on for decades. But nobody knew that would be the spark that would start that prairie fire, but it was.