Columnist Sara Weinberger: The challenge of finding hope in dark times

  • The Jan. 6 hearings. AP

Published: 7/17/2022 2:03:12 PM
Modified: 7/17/2022 2:00:18 PM

I receive many emails that begin or end with something like, “I hope you’re managing as well as can be expected during these challenging times.” I confess to doing the same.

In the past, such language would be reserved for someone struggling with their own or a family member’s illness or even death. Today, the challenge refers to living in a country where Supreme Court originalists have fabricated reasons to justify denying women sovereignty over their bodies, while limiting the rights of states to save lives through common sense gun control, and rendering the Environmental Protection Agency impotent against climate change.

From city school boards to Congress, elected officials are attempting a white nationalist takeover. A tsunami of state legislation has decimated the rights of trans children. Teaching Black history has been deemed unpatriotic. Gay marriage and birth control are slated for the chopping block.

While the Jan. 6 hearings expose a macabre effort to steal a presidential election, state legislators are stealing the right to vote for millions of Black, brown and Native American people. For those who believe in striving to make good the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every American, finding hope in these dark days is challenging.

The belief that our democracy is on the brink of collapse has created a paralyzing despair for many Americans. Friends and family have told me, “I feel bad, but I’m just burying my head in the sand.” “I’ve been protesting for half a decade. I’m tired.” “I’m done.” “The Democratic Party is useless.”

Despair has generated a sense of powerlessness that has led to passivity, an understandable, yet dangerous response when the sole of our country is at stake.

Social justice activist Nancy Amidei, in her book “So You Want to Make a Difference,” a manual to teach ordinary people simple tools for social advocacy, emphasizes that, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Democracy only works when each American is actively involved in advocating for a government that really is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Prayers and hope alone will not save our democracy. Being fixated on MSNBC will not defeat fascism.

I’ve spent the last two weeks cycling the Berkshires. Huffing and puffing up Brodie Mountain is exhausting, but it’s also exhilarating to make it to the top. At the age of 72, “use it or lose it,” has motivated me to get out of bed and hop on my bike.

Like our bodies, democracy is a muscle that atrophies when not put to use. When was the last time you wrote or phoned your legislator(s) to ask them to support an important piece of legislation? Do you belong to an organization fighting for gun control? For the right to reproductive freedom?

Have you recently written a letter to the editor of this newspaper to take a stand for justice? Have you participated in a protest? Do you implore others to get involved in saving our democracy? When was the last time you wrote a check of any amount to support a political candidate?

Have you ever written postcards to folks in red and purple states encouraging them to register to vote? When have you taken a stand against racism? Homophobia? Antisemitism? Xenophobia? Have you encouraged a cynic to vote? What have you done to keep the muscle of democracy strong?

Our beautiful Valley is rich with opportunities for action. I have heard so many people exhort, “I am not the activist type.” Joining with a group to write postcards, meet with a legislator or register voters helps alleviate the isolation and helplessness leading to despair and inaction. The following local organizations will welcome you with open arms:

■The Friday Action Group, begun locally in 2016 by Northampton activist Paul Spector, now encompasses hundreds of members nationally who “engage in small actions with big impact.” Their weekly Zoom meetings present “good news and good outcomes,” and “welcome all who need connection with kindred spirits.” (fridayaction.org)

■Swing Left Western Mass and Indivisible Northampton have merged to “educate and mobilize voters”... “to elect Democrats to offices in key states and districts across the country.” (https://swingleft.org/group/swingleftpioneervalley/join)

■The League of Women Voters works “to ensure that all citizens actively engage in making democracy work. (lwvma.org)

■413 Staying Connected lists numerous opportunities for action. (413stayingconnected.org)

I am not suggesting that everyone quit their jobs, cancel their vacations, and become full-time activists, but imagine the energy that could be unleashed if each of us committed just one hour perweek to, in the words of Rep. Jamie Raskin, “fortify our democracy against coups and political violence.”

My husband likes to sing as he pedals his recumbent e-trike. Yesterday, the Joni Mitchell song he crooned struck an uneasy chord as we pedaled up a gravel hill: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone….”

“Democracy is on the ballot this November.” (Tom Weiner) Will you commit to one hour a week to keep it alive?

Sara Weinberger of Easthampton is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.
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