Hope in the Dark

I’ve been on a hold list for Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark for quite some time and I think the timing of when my turn came up was absolutely perfect. I read it this week and it is the perfect book for our current time, well, that is, if you are unhappy with many of the events in the world and the US right now.

Solnit goes on a journey to find stories of hope, and to better understand how movements and hope work. She looks back to movements from all over the world and how activists have made change in various situations. And as she travels through history, she points out how no one knew at the time what would happen or come of the events that were unfolding.

As I’ve gone back to history to see how movements have struggled and ultimately prevailed, Solnit showed me many smaller movements that I knew nothing about, which may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but were crucial to starting the ball rolling towards change.

I’m particularly interested in her work with environmental movements, how so many groups who may be working towards very similar goals, from different perspectives, have come together to realize that they can work together and that maybe, just maybe they aren’t so different after all. Our use of words like “left” and “right” have clouded our judgement and made it harder to bring people with common goals together.

Last night, I finished the book after seeing the election results from Alabama, where a Democrat won a senate seat. It was unexpected, and seemed somewhat miraculous, but then again, that’s what hope is to me, and Solnit showed me ways in which I’d missed seeing the victories that were right there all along.

An extraordinary imaginative power to reinvent ourselves is at large in the world, though it is hard to say how it will counteract the dead weight of neoliberalism, fundamentalisms, environmental destructions, and well-marketed mindlessness. But hope is not about what we expect. It is an embrace of the essential unknowability of the world, of the breaks with the present, the surprises. Or perhaps studying the record more carefully leads us to expect miracles—not when and where we expect them, but to expect to be astonished, to expect that we don’t know. And this is grounds to act. I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul. (p 109)