Thursday, March 21, 2013

On political desire and collective action


Back in the day (that would be before George W.'s reign of error when it seemed safer to ignore the doings of the U.S. government), our friends sometimes asked my partner and I what enabled us to attend to the various political ills of the day. We were always working to mitigate U.S. dirty wars in Central America, alleviate poverty at home, stop racist police brutality in our cities, not to mention working to end discrimination against us as lesbians and women. These friends* had (partially) checked out; it was all too dreary, or too complicated, or too something. And besides, they had things to do that felt more urgent.

We didn't quite know what made us different. We usually said: "nothing else to do..." That didn't mean that we weren't earning a living or enjoying life -- but somehow attending to politics, engaging with the issues of the day, made us feel more alive. Taking part in the liberating struggles of our time made life feel worthwhile. We were as happy as busy activists can be, often very happy. When we were feeling most inclined to share our feelings, we'd add " … politics is like sex, you know."

As you can imagine, some folks thought we were crazy!

I recalled that time of fielding bemused questions the other day when I ran across this from Michael Hardt, a Professor of Literature at Duke University. It was embedded in a discussion of the future of democracy.

Humanity sets itself only such tasks, we could say modifying Marx’s words, for which it already desires and imagines the solution. Desire and imagination are part of the material conditions necessary to constitute a new reality. We can’t simply wish away climate change, of course; merely imagining world peace will not put an end to war; and just repeatedly expressing our deepest hopes, like the incantations of would-be magicians, will not make them real. But the more of us imagine and desire politically, and the more intensely we do so, the more power we have to create a new world because in that desire and imagination are born collective political action.

A sequence that emerges from the current social movements and points toward a new democratic future: experimentation opens imagination and desire that have the potential through political action to make a new reality. Perhaps a century from now they will look back and see in our era the time when that political desire took root.

I guess I still believe it: political desire and collective action amount to imagining a better future into being. Of course this is like sex.

*I should say that most of the people who asked us these sorts of questions have since engaged much more deeply, especially helping to elect President Obama and identifying with the Occupy movement. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.

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