[Note for TomDispatch Readers: With this post, TomDispatch closes for the holidays. We'll be back on the evening of January 5th ready to roar into 2014. In the meantime, we wish all our readers a splendid break! Thanks for a year's great work goes to Managing Editor Nick Turse, who will return in 2014 with a striking piece on the U.S. military and with his bestselling book Kill Anything That Moves out in paperback (congrats, Nick!); also to our stalwart Associate Editor Andy Kroll who, in his real life at Mother Jones, is one of our best young financial investigative reporters; our maestro of social media Erika Eichelberger, who makes Twitter sing; our eagle-eyed copyeditor from Tokyo, Christopher Holmes, who ensures that error is a stranger at TomDispatch; our old pal and fellow worker Joe Duax; the splendid new head of the Nation Institute (which houses this website) and old friend Taya Kitman, as well as the Institute staff, above all the wondrous Annelise Whitley. And last but hardly least, Lannan Foundation, which -- no exaggeration -- has made so many things happen for TomDispatch and made that happening personally pleasurable as well. A deep bow to all of you and my profound thanks!
Note that Ann Jones and Andrew Bacevich are going to appear on CSPAN's Book TV during the break, discussing their respective books, They Were Soldiers and Breach of Trust. The dates are: December 28th (7 PM), December 30th (7 PM), January 1st (4:30 AM) and January 1st (6 PM) -- times are Eastern Standard and if you manage to see that first show of the new year, you're a champ of 2014! I was at the event in the Boston area that Book TV filmed and it was great. Catch it if you can. And don't forget to pick up a copy of Jones's work, the first original Dispatch Book, of which we're outrageously proud. Make us a success in our publishing venture, which we'll be expanding next year. Finally, for those of you with that last-minute, end-of-the-year urge to contribute to TomDispatch, do visit our donation page and see what books you can get in return for a donation of $75 or more. Here's hoping for a surprising 2014! Tom]
'Tis the season of tradition and, as it turns out, TomDispatch has one seasonal tradition of its own. For the last nine -- count 'em: nine! -- years, Rebecca Solnit has stepped into the breach ("dear friends!") and ended the TomDispatch year for us with her usual panache. In 2006, she was dreaming of 2026; in 2008, she was looking back at the grim aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in lawless New Orleans; in 2010, it was iceberg economies and hope in the shadows (and as I wrote in my introduction that year, with the Bush administration's approach to war in mind, "As they privatized, I've privatized hope, farming it out to Rebecca Solnit, who from her first appearance at TomDispatch has filled the endowed Hope Chair brilliantly"); in 2011, it was the Occupy movement that preoccupied her; and this year, she returns to her most essential metier, the theme with which she changed my view of how the world works when she first arrived at TomDispatch back in May 2003 in the dismal months after the invasion of Iraq began and the antiwar movement collapsed in despair.
As for myself, on this disaster planet in 2013, let me admit to finding hope in a single young man, Edward Snowden, who in his act of disobedience, which was civil but for many here in the U.S. hard to swallow, he truly awoke a world to the dystopian possibilities lurking in the global security state that Washington has been building. If TomDispatch were Time magazine, he would be my person of the year, a theme I'll undoubtedly take up in 2014. Tom
The Arc of Justice and the Long Run
Hope, History, and Unpredictability
By Rebecca Solnit
North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who have planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing fruit far sweeter than most of what those fundamentalists brought to this continent. Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King's arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.
Three years ago at this time, after a young Tunisian set himself on fire to protest injustice, the Arab Spring was on the cusp of erupting. An even younger man, a rapper who went by the name El General, was on the verge of being arrested for "Rais Lebled" (a tweaked version of the phrase "head of state"), a song that would help launch the revolution in Tunisia.- Advertisement -
Weeks before either the Tunisian or Egyptian revolutions erupted, no one imagined they were going to happen. No one foresaw them. No one was talking about the Arab world or northern Africa as places with a fierce appetite for justice and democracy. No one was saying much about unarmed popular power as a force in that corner of the world. No one knew that the seeds were germinating.
A small but striking aspect of the Arab Spring was the role of hip-hop in it. Though the U.S. government often exports repression -- its billions in aid to the Egyptian military over the decades, for example -- American culture can be something else altogether, and often has been.
Henry David Thoreau wrote books that not many people read when they were published. He famously said of his unsold copies, "I have now a library of nearly 900 volumes over 700 of which I wrote myself." But a South African lawyer of Indian descent named Mohandas Gandhi read Thoreau on civil disobedience and found ideas that helped him fight discrimination in Africa and then liberate his own country from British rule. Martin Luther King studied Thoreau and Gandhi and put their ideas to work in the United States, while in 1952 the African National Congress and the young Nelson Mandela were collaborating with the South African Indian Congress on civil disobedience campaigns. You wish you could write Thoreau a letter about all this. He had no way of knowing that what he planted would still be bearing fruit 151 years after his death. But the past doesn't need us. The past guides us; the future needs us.
An influential comic book on civil disobedience and Martin Luther King published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the U.S. in 1957 was translated into Arabic and distributed in Egypt in 2009, four decades after King's death. What its impact was cannot be measured, but it seems to have had one in the Egyptian uprising which was a dizzying mix of social media, outside pressure, street fighting, and huge demonstrations.
The past explodes from time to time, and many events that once seemed to have achieved nothing turn out to do their work slowly. Much of what has been most beautifully transformative in recent years has also been branded a failure by people who want instant results guaranteed or your money back. The Arab Spring has just begun, and if some of the participant nations are going through their equivalent of the French Revolution, it's worth remembering that France, despite the Terror and the Napoleonic era, never went back either to absolutist monarchy or the belief that such a condition could be legitimate. It was a mess, it was an improvement, it's still not finished.- Advertisement -
The same might be said of the South African upheaval Mandela catalyzed. It made things better; it has not made them good enough. It's worth pointing out as well that what was liberated by the end of apartheid was not only the nonwhite population of one country, but a sense of power and possibility for so many globally who had participated in the boycotts and other campaigns to end apartheid in that miraculous era from 1989 to 1991 that also saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, successful revolutions across Eastern Europe, the student uprising in Beijing, and the beginning of the end of many authoritarian regimes in Latin America.
In the hopeful aftermath of that transformation, Mandela wrote, "The titanic effort that has brought liberation to South Africa and ensured the total liberation of Africa constitutes an act of redemption for the black people of the world. It is a gift of emancipation also to those who, because they were white, imposed on themselves the heavy burden of assuming the mantle of rulers of all humanity. It says to all who will listen and understand that, by ending the apartheid barbarity that was the offspring of European colonization, Africa has, once more, contributed to the advance of human civilization and further expanded the frontiers of liberty everywhere."