The Next Conversation: “What Do We Do Now?”

Event Date: Tuesday, November 22, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. Admission is free. Tell your friends.

Location: Vermillion, an art gallery, bar, and neighborhood gathering place at 1508 11th Ave, Seattle

The Summary

A conversation about where we stand in difficult times, and what we need to do next. Read on below for details.

The Guests

I’m working on it. Stay tuned.

The Story

As I write this, friends are flocking onto Facebook, to commune, to share their grief, to state their fears as to what is to come. A lot of the responses are about loving one another, and that is a beautiful reaction.

Stephen Thrasher, writing last night in the Guardian, suggested, “Hold your loved ones close.” For Thrasher, “loved ones” is a broad category, and must include: “People of color, women, Muslims, queer people, the sick, immigrants.” It’s true. If the responsibility to be an effective, generous, and compassionate ally was ever needed, it’s there now.

As good and valuable as such advice is, it might be interpreted as hunkering down, and that is one thing we cannot do.

Whenever something like this happens (and I stress “like this;” this particular moment is, I think, unprecedented in recent history, at least in the United States), a common response on the left is to see it as an opportunity: “Things will get so bad that there will be a revolution, and we’ll pick up the pieces.” It doesn’t work that way. Real revolutions are rare, and those created from adversity and chaos almost always go wrong. The best chance for a progressive, stable revolution is to build it on a progressive stable base.

Oddly, huge portions of that base already exist. At least some of the fear we are seeing is a fear that whatever gains we have made will be lost. And that so much energy will be spent trying to protect ourselves and our allies that we will have nothing left for moving forward.

You, the people on the mailing list for these conversations are for the most part artists, writers, performers, technologists, activists, administrators. We are entering into a time of uncertainty, and a suggestion of deep danger. What will our role be in the coming months and years?

The two biggest struggles that face us today are the perennial fight for social justice around race, class, and gender. And the ongoing struggle to counter the radical changes in the world’s climate and deal with the effects of those changes. The interesting thing is that both struggles interrelate, and that creative work in one often provides solutions in the other.

But now, it seems as though any progress in either struggle will be made much more difficult by the rise of the shiftless right, by the arrival of a vicious opportunistic con artist in the seat of power, by the petty and vindictive people who surround him, by the loathing that seems to have embraced a huge portion of the body politic. But maybe not.

It’s worth recalling Franklin Roosevelt’s famous line from his first inaugural address: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I’m thinking of fear here not as a clear adrenalin reaction to an immediate threat, but as an anxiety about what might come. For many of us, any such anxiety is based on the phantasms that we ourselves are conjuring up, from images of brown shirts in the streets to apprehension as to what may happen to the dreamers and Muslims, and, quite frankly, to us. Such fear can indeed be paralytic.

So, what do we do now? What are our options? Can we summon the honesty, courage, imagination, and discipline to act effectively? Where do we focus our energies? Electoral politics? Community building? Erecting firewalls? Revisualizing reality? And is there some magic that we possess as organizers and culture workers that can allow us to be of special service in the struggles to come?

Come talk about it.

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