My Turn/Bos: Tectonic plates that have supported my understanding of life have shifted

  • BOS

Thursday, January 19, 2017


In March 1986, I participated — along with my sister, her daughter and other friends and thousands of other protesters — in the massive pro-choice March for Women’s Lives organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Washington, D.C.

On Jan, 21 — 31 years later — the day after the presidential inauguration, I will once more march with the more than the 100,000 people who have already registered to attend the Women’s March on Washington in what is expected to be the largest demonstration linked to Donald Trump’s inauguration and a focal point for activists who have been energized in opposing his agenda.

We are living in perilous and unprecedented times.

America is facing four years under the presidency of Donald Trump who lives in a fact-free universe supported by a cabinet of radical right appointees whose regard for the country is founded on the love of profit at the expense of social and environmental welfare.

How and what can I tell my grandsons about the time they are living in, a time that we, the older generation, has created for them?

One answer arrived in my inbox recently from my old college friend, Jack. It is an extraordinary poem by Rachel Kann titled “What to tell the Children” about the crumbling of what we thought was our country. One of my writing teachers, Linda Bendorf, wrote to me saying “Power also emanates from gentle strength. This powerful poem carries truth like both a lance and a song.”

I have sent Rachel’s poem on to many of my friends and urge you to read it at http://hevria.com/rachel/what-to-tell-the-children.

Kann’s poem goes like this:

Tell them that this is the great awakening.

Tell them that we humans have made some huge mistakes

And that’s how we now find ourselves in this tenuous place.

A bit later on she paints a picture of what I am experiencing in America today:

Tell them that this is the paradigm shift,

That the old is collapsing in on itself,

That this death rattle is simply a temper tantrum;

The last gasp of a dying goliath.

Remind them of how they get wild

When they are most tired,

And then pass out,

That this is what it’s about,

That this is what is happening to a decrepit and ineffective empire.

Our national and international quandary feels hopeless, much too complex and big to deal with. What to do? Is there any hope for tomorrow?

“Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away,” Rebecca Solnit writes in the foreword to the 2016 edition of her slim volume titled “Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.”

Solnit originally wrote her essays on hope in 2003, six weeks after the start of Iraq war, in an effort to speak “directly to the inner life of the politics of the moment, to the emotions and preconceptions that underlie our political positions and engagements.”

Although the specific conditions in 2017 have shifted in the dozen years since the Iraq war, the undergirding causes and wide-ranging consequences have only gained in relevance and impact. She writes: “The moment passed long ago, but despair, defeatism, cynicism, and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed, even as the most wildly, unimaginably magnificent things came to pass. There is a lot of evidence for the defense… Progressive, populist, and grass-roots constituencies have had many victories. Popular power has continued to be a profound force for change. And the changes we’ve undergone, both wonderful and terrible, are astonishing.”

One thinks of “The Great Turning,” Joanna Macy’s name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Macy writes that “The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits — in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.”

“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine” Solnit writes.

Everything will not be what Donald Trump says it will be.

The Tectonic plates that have supported my understanding about our way of life, our efforts to improve medical support, education for the many, and our continuous striving for economic justice, have crumbled. What to do? Nothing? Something? If something, what?

Solnit answers by stating that “Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

I can’t imagine what impact the Saturday popular power march in Washington will have but I’ll be there anyway.

Shelburne Falls resident John Bos invites dialogue at john01370@gmail.com. He will send Rachel Kann’s poem via email to anyone requesting the poem.