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The Politics Of Hope

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At its most basic, politics is about hope.

Power, greed, narrow interests, and, too uncommonly, large ideas - yes, politics is about these things as well. Politics is the means that serve so many different ends, every now and again including the common good.

Yet even while scarce few yellow brick political roads end at cities agleam with emeralds and good men, the journey down none of them begins until the first step and each thereafter is launched by hope. Hope is the journey, you see, though so few anymore venture to take it.

Too many in this country today are instead indifferent to politics. Tyrannized by their overscheduled lives, distracted by money and possessions, celebrity and sport, or preoccupied with simply keeping their heads and those of their children above water, too many Americans live believing the state of the world does not concern them.

Others, more and more still, have been overwhelmed into indifference by the very state of the world. Quite forgivable, that, given these past five years. It is quite natural to vacillate between the determination to act, and the desire to retreat into the comforts of fun, family and friends.

But indifference is a nonetheless a conscious act, whether a temporary neglect or a permanent abandonment of hope. It requires one hanging up their ideals, putting away their enthusiasms, quieting their questioning spirit, and closing the lid on their indignations. It says of the present world, "It's not for me to understand." It says, "I cannot change the way things are," even as one's private concerns, one's happiness, and one's life course will every day be affected by the way things are.

Hope is the refusal of being indifferent. As author and founder of the Small Planet Institute Frances Moore Lappe' once wrote, "Hope is not for wimps; it is for the strong-hearted who can recognize how bad things are and yet not be deterred, not be paralyzed." Hope is living one step ahead of reality, imagining things as different from as they are now, believing in spite of the odds.

Hope is conceived from the union of imagination and indignation. It is the child of expectation and desire. It gives life to the idea that every present is incomplete, and gives the lie to the belief that the way things are is the best and most natural outcome of all that has gone on before.

Dominant beliefs, held most strongly by those whose turn in power and those they lead, are typically at pains to suggest they are no more alterable by human hands than are the orbits of the earth. Hope is thus dismissed as naïvete', equated with ignorance of the "facts" and with denial of "reality". It is ridiculed as the drug of the powerless, and laughed off as the high of the truly hopeless.

But the past informs us that the dominant beliefs of one age themselves are often ridiculed in the next. History often proceeds by a process of reversal: momentum going in one direction is replaced by momentum in the opposite, each shift in momentum brought about by collective imagination and indignation. While history provides us many lessons, one endures: successful change comes from hope, not from indifference.

As Americans we live in a democracy, and indifference is fatal to its survival. The powerful, they haven't stopped hoping: in fact, what they're hoping most for is your indifference.

When we don't participate, when might we do it? And if we don't do it at all, what are we saying? What have we decided? To stay right where we are.

While sometimes naïve, others uninformed, hope is at least a noble journey, though that is not to say the right path is always taken. Who knows if there is even a "right" path? That is the beauty of democracy: when citizens actively participate, the question of who and what is "right" gets sorted out over time. We have only to hope. And to vote.
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Todd Huffman is a pediatrician and writer living in Eugene, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to many newspapers and publications throughout the Pacific Northwest.
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