I can see the world is changing.
I can see the changes all around me. I can hear the world is not going anywhere at all. I hear silence and derision, apathy and indecision all around me. I feel the constant motion of events, of that passage we call time, of the biology of this world, the flow of the wind through East Asia, the Middle East, the polar caps, the United States. I can feel the flow of our worlds blood and the raging bursts of energy we call our lives, but Im living in a philosophy that prefers death.
As the millennium draws near we collectively grow anxious over this artificial milestone in the history of our planet, as though the ultimate crisis of the world hadn't already started with the first drop of the atom bomb. For longer than I can remember Ive been feeling an anxiety about the world and the direction weve been heading. Ive seen events as a constant and unstoppable rush towards a final end. And I was wrong. Our self-fulfilling prophecy of doom isnt anything new, and the destructive arrogance of those I am powerless to stop doesnt have a set time limit. The truth is, though, that weve had plenty of crises these past few centuries, and we are at one once again. This is a turning point that is eternally tied to the innumerable historical struggles for and against power.
The year 1998 saw the Indonesian economy suffer along with the other nations caught up in an economic crisis, which triggered a bailout that had nothing to do with the real Indonesian economy, which sparked widespread riots in an already volatile nation, leading the U.S. press to focus on the racist motives of the xenophobic Indonesians, raiding the homes of the Chinese ethnic population that, coincidentally, held a significant portion of the nations wealth. Then Suharto stepped down, an event nobody would have predicted. Suddenly the media were struggling to save face as they revised Suhartos image from benevolent leader to well-meaning dictator whose time was up. Very little comment was made on this irony as the world was captivated by Monicagate.
While riots and protests persisted in Indonesia, European countries began to question the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The eternal ping pong from left to right and back again that Europe seems to have been caught up in may have broken, as the Green party gains legitimacy and the critique of global neoliberalism surpasses party lines. The world is refusing the bitter brew even as multinational corporations continue to concoct it.
Pinochet has been extradited in the first baby step towards justice, Clinton bombed two nations in an attempt to find a phantom terrorist, then bombed Iraq for good measure as Congress told America it was to distract attention from a sexual affair that nobody cares about. The struggle in Chiapas continues even as it becomes yesterdays headlines. The United States increases its efforts against drug lords posing as leftist guerrillas or leftist guerrillas dealing drugs in Columbia, as Chiquita forces a small newspaper to repeal a piece of investigative reporting that investigated the wrong side. Recently Yugoslavia has joined the ranks of victims in a bombing campaign that can only lead to greater suffering for those the U.S. claims it is protecting. Yet things are changing.
This entire decade has witnessed the end of an era of polarity in political struggle and the dawn of real struggle, even as the powers that be move to solidify their global dominance. Revolution no longer means Marxist party lines or immediate utopia, but real efforts for slow, painful but definite change. The campaign to save Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political prisoner as important to some of us as the Haymarket Martyrs and the Rosenbergs, has grown to significant proportion, but the gavel of injustice continues to pound out the voices. The machine is strong but it seems we are awakening.
In the midst of all this I find myself at a loss. We are at a turning point that promises to surpass the 1930s and the 60s, one that hints at the possibility of real change, and yet nothing may come of it. Our problem is not utopian vision, nor is it simply a matter of the wrong ideas dominating our movements. There are plenty of thinking individuals around, but too many seem to be convinced that their doubts and critiques are something new, as though idealists werent always shouting into a void of naysayers.
There is plenty of resistance and dissent in the world, the problem lies in tying it all together. Environmental concerns are delegated to those affluent enough to afford the latest in designer ecoproducts while working people are expected to complain about people who tie themselves to trees and police are cheered on as they rub mace into the eyes of protesters. The words of yesterdays hope are fuel for the machines of todays despair.
All around me the world seems to be crying Its time now! - but since everyone goes on with their daily lives as though it isnt time and it never will be, I let myself get lost in my own self-important routines. What happens to the people who step out of line first when nothing happens after all? Im afraid to find out, I confess.
Most of all, I dont know what to do. I dont have romantic visions of being a martyr, I wouldnt mind living a relatively quiet life, raising my children in a world where whatever struggle that remains is well on its way to victory. Unfortunately, that wont happen without martyrs; nobody lives in peace and plenty unless somebody sheds their blood or donates their lifes labor.
I cant shake the overwhelming sense that somehow, were going about things the wrong way, that I dont know enough, that I waste too much time trying to learn, that the significant events slip by without comment as we protest the little things that America doesnt stop to notice. I wouldnt want to revive the old-style idealism of the 30s, but I wonder if we havent forgotten the concept of internationalism in a world where the rich and powerful certainly understand it.
I look around me at the protests, the marches and speeches, the people rallying around the little things because it is the little things that add up to the big picture, and Im paralyzed. Im paralyzed because I cant decide which little thing to expend my energy on, because I have to feel guilty about writing when I should be handing out flyers and calling people to participate in the current issue, while the people around me cant perceive the roots of the problem. To some people revolution is just theory, while politically correct slogan shouting is action for piecemeal change.
I feel guilty about not being involved enough when my fellow graduate students, with the same schedule as myself, feel pressured for time in living their own lives. I feel the pressure from outside, from work and school and my professional future, while inside countless voices urge me to write. I think in stories and characters, everything is fascinating and important to me, but I have to feel guilty about following my instincts with my spare time instead of reading Marx. According to some people, anyway. I say this because in my state of bewilderment over the events and my inability to act Ive come to realize something: my intuition is the only voice I need to follow. Were in an era comparable to the industrial revolution and Ive chosen to immerse myself in the culture of information, sifting through the crap and replacing my own thoughts wherever possible.
It weighs on me to think of how many countless words fall to the ground, unheard or unread, only to be trampled by thousands of seemingly apathetic feet, and to know that this is nothing new. People have been screaming into the silence long before I was ever here, suffering for their efforts, but eventually the echoes still made their way to my ears and countless others. No, I may not be able to step along with all the marches and I may not be able to call myself a total revolutionary, but Im engaging in the one thing I can do right, and thats not wrong. The times are a mess and we have to perceive all the subtle connections, but we cant bite off more than we can chew.
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