Activists, Teachers: Don't Give Up

As we rise to another day of struggle on behalf of our planet and species, it is important to remember what it is that gives us hope.

The political sphere can seem like a hopeless shell game. Activists toil to get someone they believe to be an idealist elected only to see those ideals slowly abandoned. Human rights activists can work lifetimes to reduce suffering only to have that work destroyed by one thoughtless generation. What is the point of working so hard to change the world if at some point all our great ideals will dissolve into political compromise?

It is important to remember that the political sphere is only a stage upon which we live out our larger principles. We are not mere foot soldiers in a partisan struggle. We must be teachers of humankind. Our values are not on the table to be won or lost. We use defeat as easily as victory to teach and learn what it is to be human.

When our own time seems grim, we look back to a "golden age" when we imagine it was different, when social justice was on the march. Who has not wished to stand shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King Jr. or some other pioneer of human rights? But we must remember such prophets lived in bleak and lonely times. Human rights are not won solely with political victories or large rallies. They are forged in the furnace of political disappointments and begin in poorly attended meetings. By the time the crowds start showing up, the hardest work has been done.

Long before a Martin Luther King Jr. is possible, numberless and nameless champions have laid the foundation where his message could even be understood. Leaders do not create social movements; they are created by those movements. Political victories are mere stopgaps until the founding principles of a universal humanity have been taught to the people.

Victory added nothing to Gandhi's truth nor would have defeat in his own time detracted from it. In our struggle, we do not fight against human beings but on behalf of all humanity against inhuman systems. All true revolution is a call to return to our humanity in inhuman times. In such times, remaining human is itself a victory.

This is not to minimize the consequences of the struggle. We realize more than most that lives are on the line, lives of those usually far less privileged than we. At night, the dedicated activist hears the cries from sweatshops or from deep within unsafe mines. We feel the shiver of the young soldier who is slowly taking aim to snuff out a stranger's life and to forever wound his own.

We feel the urgency and know what is at stake, but we also understand that without calmness we cannot teach and without ethical clarity we ourselves fall into the storm. We are like experts who must disarm a bomb in a populated area. We stay patient and calm precisely because so much is on the line.

Nothing great was ever accomplished in a single lifetime. We must emblazon those words in our hearts. The struggle is always worth it. For, if we do not improve our own time we have made possible some future happiness. If all around us is hopeless it is the perfect time to begin loosening the soil for future planters. The more hopeless the political situation, the more important are those who live and teach the principles of human decency.

Those who live by great principles are above the ebb and flow of political circumstance. They carry their treasure with them. And, really, the struggle offers so much more than hope. Even if we knew we would lose every campaign between here and the grave, we should still choose this path of service to humanity because it is the only road that leads to a life worth living.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.