Resistance and Hope
By Charles Sullivan
12/12/07 "ICH" -- -- If we Americans are nothing more than
hopelessly addicted consumers who think of ourselves as an
exceptional people with special entitlements; if we see
ourselves as god’s morally superior chosen people; if we are
selfish and greedy beyond redemption—then we are complicit in
all of the horrible crimes that government commits in our name.
The United States has a violent history of atrocity and
exploitation that began with the arrival of Christopher Columbus
on the shores of North America in 1492. It extends all the way
to the present and is guided by the same poisoned
Those who know history understand that we have never come to
grips with the horrible past which has led us to the appalling
present. We take great pains to suppress a ghastly history of
murder and mayhem in order to convince ourselves that we are not
the people who exterminated and enslaved the indigenous people
of North America; that we were not the practitioners of racism
and chattel slavery questing for treasure on the backs of the
oppressed or the murderers of striking workers seeking a living
wage and decent working conditions.
Americans need to believe that those events and their effects
are safely buried in the past, thereby absolving us from
culpability for them in the present; but they will not stay
buried and they will pursue us to our graves if we do not
acknowledge them and comprehend their implications.
Likewise, we suppress our responsibility in unleashing the
plague of global warming on the world and we call it a natural
cycle so that we do not have to change our ways. Under the
unbearable pressure of inconvenient truths, we ignore them in
hopes that they will go away rather than fester and multiply.
But if that is who we are and if we are incapable of coming to
terms with the repulsive past there is no hope for us. Our fate
is already cast and a terrible price will have to be paid by
billions of people and countless other species. We will reap as
we have sown and misery and death will be our just reward.
If that is indeed the case, then everything that follows this
paragraph may be an exercise in futility; albeit it a necessary
Despite the considerable evidence that suggests we are
collectively—like our ancestors also practitioners of Manifest
Destiny, history has disgorged some notable exceptions to the
idea of American exceptionalism and entitlement. The people who
actively opposed injustice throughout American history and
offered fierce resistance are a light in the gathering
darkness—a beacon of hope to those living in the present and an
inspiration to those who will follow us in the future. Most of
them were ordinary people who differed from us only in their
willingness to resist the injustice and tyranny of their time.
We have only to follow their example to avoid being ship wrecked
in a history that endlessly repeats itself. There may be a way
out of hell but it will be wrought with difficulty and
characterized by individual and collective struggle. The
willingness of enough people to engage in that struggle will
determine the outcome and define the future.
From thousands of indigenous uprisings against colonial
occupation, to Shay’s rebellion and continuing through heroic
acts of revolutionary unionism and the courageous peace
activists of today’s Code Pink, America has produced a
continuous line of revolutionary thinkers and organizers intent
on fundamentally restructuring society, including the
redistribution of wealth and power.
America is a nation that has always been divided by
socio-economic class with the rich and powerful holding the keys
to political empire and advancing the agenda of the moneyed
gentry over those of everyone else. Yet we persist in calling
our republic a democracy—which suggests that we have no idea
what a real democracy should look like.
There has always been strong opposition to the tyranny of unjust
government and to the prevailing institutions of oppression and
inequality. And where there is resistance to evil, no matter how
small or seemingly impotent, there is hope. Resistance, apart
from being an act of defiance to illegitimate authority, is also
an act of faith akin to planting a seed that has enormous
potential to change the world.
Resistance creates hope and hope in turn fuels further
resistance. Resistance and hope give birth to a faith that
believes that just outcomes are possible through struggle and
Without resistance there is no hope and no possibility of the
transformative change that is so desperately needed. No matter
how seemingly futile the gesture of resistance—hope is its
byproduct. Hope is born of struggle and defiance to unjust
authority. It is born of a rebelliousness that refuses to
tolerate the intolerable and moves to oppose it. While it is
theoretically possible that people can exist without hope, they
cannot flourish and become fully human in its absence.
Where hope is abandoned, fear immediately rushes in to fill the
vacuum and tyranny quickly ensues. Lacking hope, we are simply
biding our time, stealing from the future and waiting for the
end to play out. We are passive spectators on the deck of the
Titanic awaiting our fate, whistling in the dark and trying to
convince ourselves that these menacing waters are safely
navigable through blind reckoning and indifference when in fact,
they are not.
The great conservationist Aldo Leopold wisely observed: “One of
the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone
in a world of wounds.” That is also the penalty of having a
social conscience. Cultivating a social conscience can be
exasperating and it can adversely affect one’s health. But the
failure to cultivate a social conscience approaches what Dr.
Martin Luther King called, “Spiritual Death.” There are rarely
easy ways out of the moral morasses we create. Opposition and
struggle are the way but they exact costs that too few are
willing to pay. That is why injustice is passed from one
generation to the next and injustice so often prevails over
justice. Our core beliefs should be non-negotiable. Either we
stand by them or we are deluding ourselves.
The situation is exacerbated when our fellow citizens fail to
grasp the gravity of the crises and even contribute to the
injustice, either deliberately or through unintended ignorance
of the important issues. In such times the reward of struggle
appears small and the temptation to quit is great. As the flag
wavers and prevaricators hold sway and ignorance and darkness,
it seems, becomes all pervasive and hope seems like a Utopian
dream as dim as the long lost sunlight of a nuclear winter.
In the midst of insidious fear and belligerent nationalism,
resistance is never an easy proposition; but it is a critical
component of human nature that gives rise to hope and,
ultimately, to transformative change and justice. Resistance
creates possibilities, whereas capitulation extinguishes them.
There are those who can look the other way in times of peril or
during the commission of crimes; and there are those who cannot.
We happen to belong to the latter group and we must try to set
things right. We are hard-wired that way—it is our nature and it
is who we are.
The alternative to resistance is as unthinkable as it is
unconscionable. As long as a single voice cries in the
wilderness hope exists and better outcomes are possible. It is
in our DNA to resist evil and, it is the only principled action
available to us. Conscience requires that we act on the
knowledge we have, regardless of our numbers or the consequences
to ourselves. Other good people will recognize the justice of
the cause and a few will join the struggle.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a
single step. So, too, a movement is born with a single act of
resistance that is rooted in conscience.
No one knows if enough people will ever care enough to get
involved so we can reach the critical mass necessary to evoke
transformative change, which is why it is so imperative to
continue the struggle. It is impossible to know where we are on
our journey, so we must simply continue the excursion by moving
forward which is what defines us as progressives and separates
us from the crowd.
Humankind is rarely uplifted by its majority or by those who
play it safe by looking the other way in the face of injustice.
It is advanced by those who see wrong doing and choose to do
something about it—the conscientious few that stand on principle
and act in accordance with those principles for the betterment
Without principled resistance there is no possibility of
transformation from an unjust society to a just society; and no
possibility of driving a wooden stake through the heart of the
imperialist ambition that is killing our children and the
children of other people like us in distant lands in war after
Fighting injustice is an antidote to the debilitating despair
that casts a dark pall over the nation and across the world.
Giving in to that despair can only assure its continuation.
Opposition to evil is preferable to capitulation to it; and,
moreover, it is the only appropriate response. The beauty and
joy is in the struggle, in knowing the rightness of the cause;
the stubborn refusal to cooperate with evil or to commit crimes
against earth and humanity.
While our struggle often feels lonely and futile, we are rarely
as isolated as we think. There are almost certainly kindred
spirits in our own communities. Put out your hand to see if
anyone takes it. You might just be surprised to know who is
For every front line activist there are tens of thousands who
agree with them in principle but who remain on the sidelines as
spectators. As conditions deteriorate and others come to
appreciate our position in the same light as we do, more of them
are likely to become involved in the resistance. The untapped
potential of our moral supporters is both enormous and grossly
under appreciated. Fear and uncertainty is all that keeps us
apart but they can be overcome through networking and
Sweeping change and justice will never come from the inert
masses who occupy the safe middle grounds. As corporate fascism
spreads across the planet there are no safe places for anyone
but the fascists themselves. Nor will transformation come from
the neo-conservative regressives occupying the far right, as
embodied by the likes of Trent Lott and Rush Limbaugh and their
ideological brethren in corporate America. It will not be
enacted through neo-liberals such as Hillary Clinton either, or
indeed anyone in the mainstream.
Justice will come, as it always does, from the far left that
champion the cause of the disenfranchised and the defenseless.
It will be derived from ordinary citizens—people like you and I
working for justice and accepting nothing less; by standing up
and being counted and refusing to sit down and be quiet.
Ordinary people must become interested enough and they must care
enough to take ownership of government and demand fair and equal
representation by it. But awakening is often a painfully slow
process and patience is so difficult when urgency is needed.
Government that is not accountable to the people is accountable
to no one. That kind of government can only become fascist and
prey upon the people it is supposed to serve. Such government
must be abolished and replaced by genuine democracy—government
of the people, by the people, for the people—all of the people,
not just those with wealth and social status.
Obedience to authority that is not derived from the people
themselves will ultimately result in injustice and economic
inequity. Obedience can only assure the continuation of the
established orthodoxy and a future that is significantly worse
than the past and the present combined. If we truly believe in
what we claim to hold dear we must be willing to fight for those
beliefs without compromising them. Faith that is not driven by
principled action is useless—it is not real faith at all.
Yet, despite our best efforts, it may well be that the best we
can hope for is to slow the spread of the racist dogma of
American exceptionalism that, unfortunately, continues to define
us as a nation. Perhaps there are simply too few of us actively
engaged in resistance to stop the purveyors of hate and
extremism. But even if that is the case and resistance is
futile, it does not change the moral imperative to resist.
Injustice is wrong and it must be opposed. Stepping out of the
way or quitting is to cooperate with the evil we rail against.
Apathy and hopelessness are the great enablers of tyranny and we
must never give in to them.
Given the enormity of the evil that stalks decency everywhere,
rage fatigue and depression are the prevalent symptoms that
follow. All of us are susceptible to them to various degrees
because we feel so alone and understandably frustrated. The few
are expected, as they always are, to do the work of many from
which all will benefit in the end.
Dealing with the defining issues of our time and the blundering
apathy of the multitudes can be infuriating and demoralizing. We
cannot do everything but each of us must do what we can to
affect the things we can change. Outrage and anger can be
powerful tools for motivation or they can become debilitating
liabilities. We must take care that they motivate rather than
destroy us. Righteous indignation and fury is a just response to
what is being done in our name but it must be harnessed and
Continuous resistance is exhausting and necessary work. It is
work that will probably never bring us the admiration of our
fellow citizens who are more likely than not to hold us in
contempt. People fear what they do not understand and most still
subscribe to the myth of American exceptionalism. But it is the
most important thing that any of us will ever do. It is for us
to show the way and keep hope alive.
In these trying times of doublespeak and group think it is easy
to feel overwhelmed and demoralized. But action is the antidote
to despair. It is vital that we stay connected to other people
engaged in related struggles; that we provide mutual support to
and encourage one another to continue a spirited resistance that
does not know how to quit. We are rarely as alone as we are lead
It is immensely helpful to know there are other people out there
doing the important work that the times require of each of us.
Seeing others engaged in resisting wrong doing may inspire
others to take up the cause and a powerful movement may someday
be born. It is the certainty of that knowledge that keeps hope
alive and makes existence not only bearable, but enjoyable.
I am not expecting anyone to do the impossible or to offer
oneself up for crucifixion or martyrdom. I am calling upon all
good people to simply live a wholesome and simple and decent
life and to uphold the principles of fairness, decency, sharing
and empathy for others and, most importantly, justice. An injury
to one truly is an injury to all.
Charles Sullivan is a nature photographer, free-lance writer
and community activist residing in the Ridge and Valley
Providence of geopolitical West Virginia. He welcomes your
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