This short book is about hope as activism, and describes different examples of how activism has worked, though sometimes over a long period of time, because “we can change the world because we have many times before.”
While reading this I found myself swinging between feeling it was dated, and feeling its absolute relevance to this year. It was first published in 2005, in response to the Bush administration in the US, and then reissued with an additional forward and afterward in 2015. 2016 has been…interesting…and some of the progress she talks about in the book feels like it’s heading backwards this year. But at the point I started feeling that yes, it is out of date for the mess that is 2016, the Standing Rock protests got an easement for the pipeline denied. Though it’s by no means the end of that fight, it felt like a little piece of hope in the dark, especially as it seemed so impossible.
As I finished reading the final chapters, civilians in Aleppo were being executed. I very nearly swung back to the hopeless-irrelevance place, but much of this book is about how hope means action. It talks about hope not as a belief that everything is / will be fine, but about the possibility of something different, a possibility that invites you to act. Solnit also talks about how unhelpful despair about the world is – “If the world is totally doomed no matter what, little or nothing is demanded of you in response.”
Solnit also talks a little about when progress made feels like it’s retreating backwards. It’s important to celebrate victories when they come, even when it’s not ‘perfect’, and often those victories provide a starting point/milestone, a vocabulary, and a tool box for further change. But, they are usually unfinished. “It’s always too soon to go home” – the fight must continue. For Standing Rock, it’s important this is remembered.
For a short book, it can be repetitive in places, and I don’t agree with everything she says, but I love Solnit’s writing. I’ve underlined so many sentences in my copy, and I’m not normally one to write in books. My favourite is maybe – “in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act”.
2016 has been a strange year politically and culturally, but I think this is still an important and relevant book to read to help you remember to be hopeful, and that hope means action, and that action does make a difference, even if you don’t see the larger changes in your lifetime. The rise of the far right, Brexit, Trump, climate change, the removal of rights for disabled and LGBT people – the list of reasons to despair is endless. But they also mean more people are mobilising and participating in activism. There is hope in the dark.
“American electoral politics is not the most hopeful direction to look in, and yet the very disastrousness seems sometimes to offer possibility.”
“I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for and to live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender abandons not only the future, it abandons the soul.”