"How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?"
- Sarah Palin, Saturday 6 February 2010, Nashville TN
A political attack this may be, but on a broader level, fewer words strike me as more cynical. Who would choose to speak out with such snide disparagement against hope and change? To mock hope is to do violence to the human soul. I didn't think anything at the tea party convention in Nashville could be more offensive than Tom Tancredo's speech on Friday night and yet i've been wondering if I was wrong. A different kind of offense, but offense nonetheless.
This strikes me as cynicism one needs to resist beyond mere party politics. But not with aggression or yet more cynicism. Rather, mindful of the very tradition out of which that campaign of hope and change came. That tradition is the very civil rights movement that worked to challenge and overturn the injustice of the Jim Crow days to which Tancredo and the tea party audience who gathered in Nashville would apparently like to return.
On Sunday night I watched the behind-the-scenes HBO documentary, By the People: The Election of Barack Obama simply to be reminded of the specific hope and change Palin was attacking and the ongoing legacy of the civil rights movement that brought so many people out to vote in November '08.
Seeking a broader sense of resistance to cynicism I finally got around to reading The Charter for Compassion, started by Karen Armstrong and launched last November. I reflected on it, affirmed it and share it here. It's available in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic:
or hear it in English:
If you're looking for some really reasoned and reasonable conversation between people with opposing ideas on contemporary issues, you'd do a lot worse than checking out fora.tv. there's a range of podcasts to choose from and I'm currently really enjoying the "audio of the week" podcast. The level of conversation is amazing on some of them. There's a commitment to explore the range of opinions on any given topic and to try and get the conversations to a place beyond discursive warfare.
The feminist I
This desiring for voices of hopefulness comes in a week in which I've been resisting and wrestling the tension that exists in some of the work I'm doing - having to accept that I won't be able to reconcile the text I'm working on. Which is what makes the text so interesting - that very tension makes it a site of energy. But I have found that intellectual exploration an emotional experience.
Part of feminist academic principles is that one rejects the idea of an assumed academic, scientific or social objectivity. One has to expose one's subjectivity, place oneself at the heart of any debate and reveal rather than conceal bias or privilege - the impact of the self on research and enquiry. This reflexive act, known as the 'feminist I", is to be put on the page, sometimes explicitly, other times implicitly. Rather than pretending one is writing about the world as it is, one must acknowledge one is writing about the world as one finds it from where one stands, limited by a subjective perspective and a range of privileges.
But this feminist "I" has another function. It speaks to the tradition of the personal as political. It links the self and experience to any given issue, requiring us to see ourselves in the work and be open to transformation - to acknowledge that one's ideas transform and change as one learns and writes. If feminist work is meant to seek liberation, then that starts with the personal - with the I. With me.
And there's a third. This concept of the I pushes us to write about our passions. To work on themes and issues that we care about, that link with our own narrative, or indeed to find the link. One is consistently being pulled back from the abstract. (This also of course requires the balance of that reflexive observance in that first function.)
If one is going to have to write oneself into the text, one might as well write about something one connects with, feels affected by, wants to see progress or change in. All of this makes the theory real. It injects energy and emotion as one attempts to bring the whole self to the page.
It's not only liberating, but challenging. One can't hide behind some 'intellectual' voice of reason. One must research and write from the self. For all the energy it can inject into one's writing, it is also requires one to really engage with other texts. To stand inside one's reasoning and really own it.
As I engage with a text I know I will not be able to reconcile to itself, or to myself, I must accept the tension as well as the energy. To write with hope is to be mindful of history. History tells us that things have changed. This means they can and will change again. If meanings, culture and identity are unstable, then there is always the possibility of transformation for the better. There is a real artistic spirit to this... just as the artist stands before a canvas or block of clay or in an empty space and has to embrace not knowing what one wants to create (even if only for a moment), here too in an academic context, embracing instablity, insecurity, ambiguity, complexity and vulnerability one can find new paths of creativity and insight - and hope.
The is a relief in not knowing and not having answers if one is open to the insecurity of it. Suddenly, instead of one elusive answer, there are limitless possibilities for transformation.
A humanitarian emergency in need of urgent attention
For information on the crisis on the the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota see this video from Olbermann. Props to him for saying something...
Donations to the relief effort can be made by clicking here on the razoo page mentioned in the video above. i can't speak to facebook or twitter but those who use them might be able to spread the word there too or via good ol' fashioned email.
That hopey, changey stuff? I don't think we have a choice. I believe it's what we're called to by virtue of being human and thus being interdependent.