“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.” —Alasdair Gray
Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot today – along with 12 other people – at a shopping mall, during her “Congress on the Corner” series. We don’t yet know if she will live, nor do we know exactly why she was shot in the head by the man now held in custody. We do know that she has been targeted in the past, with violent political hyperbole by the likes of Sarah Palin, and in physical reality by individuals with guns showing up at her speaking engagements or her offices being ransacked.
I may not agree with every stance Rep. Giffords supported – there are several points on which we would part company – but I do know that this assassination attempt is yet another sign that we live in troubling times.
And yet, to not work as though we lived in the early days of a better nation would be to fall into despair. I have felt this particularly keenly since the news of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib began to appear. The world of humans, of political machinations, of greed, and the torture and enslavement of others is one of sickness and disease. And yet, last night I walked with friends among the small galleries of Oakland California, in a city considered one of the most violent in the US. It is also a city of activists, artists, musicians, and growers of gardens. The crowd was lively, the art was inspired and inspiring, and people played music on the street. A better nation was being created last night, because a better nation is filled with citizens who create art.
I could write about the pain I feel at the knowledge that young people are being used in sex trafficking, or locked in rooms creating cheap products for export, or are unemployed and disenfranchised, or living in a poverty of body and soul. But then Yak Films captures street ballet for the world to see. Or a sunset over the water gives pause to a conversation I’m having with a friend. In such things lie riches that we can taste, and touch, and see.
So I ask us: what can we do, right now, to help build a better nation? When we come close to despairing, what brings us back to center, to beauty, and to breath?
Scottish Lefty science fiction author Ken MacLeod from whom I got the quote that begins this entry, wrote a reminder for us several years ago, and I encourage you to click through and read the whole thing:
There are more of you than you know. You’re in deep in the system, in its fouled blood, in its creaking bones, in its edgy nerves. In its schools and universities, its bureaucracies and businesses, its studios and offices, its factories and homes. You’re under its skin. The midnight fathers. The summer of love mothers. Thousands of you, tens of thousands… You have the numbers. You know the drill.
We do know the drill. We become subversives in each ordinary moment, revolutionaries of art and change. In the process, we build the world we see as possible. In the process, we become ourselves. We keep creating things, and passing things on – the smiles, the nods, the laughter, the music – that give each other the encouragement to continue.
The alternative is too much for the soul to bear. Cast light. Eat the shadow.
Let’s lift each other up.