Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, Day of the Citizen

November 6, 2008
Tomgram: Rebecca Solnit, Day of the Citizen

For almost eight years, somebody else’s bad-seed children had the run of the political sandbox. You could look on in horror as they bullied others, tore up the playground, and even managed to throw sand in their own eyes. You could yell at them (though they were heedless), or wonder where in the world their parents had gone, or who in the world had ever raised them to be this way. It was harder to dream, to hope.

Perhaps the best thing about the election of Barack Obama is simply the thought that, two and a half months from now, those mad children will be gone (though the damage they did will be with us eternally). At least that opens up the possibility of dreaming — and not just about the undoubtedly relatively familiar cast of characters who are likely to be appointed by the new president.

What’s happened is still only slowly sinking in for me, but the din outside my window election night when CNN declared Obama the victor — as if the Mets had just won the World Series (yes, I live in New York) — was surely a roar of joy, but also of relief. The images of Americans, young and old, weeping with pleasure and relief, the interviews on the news yesterday in which Americans nationwide dared to hope, however hesitantly, were all moving.

Back in May 2003, in a particularly dark moment, Rebecca Solnit posted an essay, “Acts of Hope,” at this site that became her wonderful, essential book — one that changed the way I look at history and life — Hope in the Dark. In it she wrote:

“A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure… But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences… History is like weather, not like checkers. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does.”

She never stopped hoping or dreaming. Now, it seems, the weather is changing. If you feel hopeful, hang on to that feeling when things start to go wrong, as they certainly will. Tom

A Great Day, Nine Years, Three or Four Centuries

The Jubilant Birth of the Obama Era

By Rebecca Solnit

Citizenship is a passionate joy at times, and this is one of those times. You can feel it. Tuesday the world changed. It was a great day. Monday it rained hard for the first time this season and on Election Day, everything in San Francisco was washed clean. I went on a long run past several polling places up in the hills around my home and saw lines of working people waiting to vote and contented-looking citizens walking around with their “I Voted” stickers in the sun and mud.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


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