When I look back on the events of 2012 and all the years I’ve been in and around activist culture, I’m often reminded of a quote from a clip of a movie I once saw. It goes like this:
“You are becoming gods. There’s a new master of creation, and it’s you. You’ve unravelled DNA. You’re five years away from building your own people and at the same time you’re cultivating bacteria strong enough to kill every living thing. You think you’re ready for that much power? You lot? You’re running around like kids with guns creating a new world while the world you’ve got is stinking. Hands up. Hands up, anyone who thinks you’ve got it right. Yeah, there’s always one. I can see you. If you want the position of God then take the responsibility.
I’m like you. I’ve been you. Knowing it’s all going wrong but doing nothing about it. Keeping your head down. Giving a quid to charity, signing a petition, talking about it down at the pub. Laughing about it and doing nothing, even now. Right now I want to do nothing, I want to go home, shut the door and pretend this isn’t happening, but I can’t. I can’t.”
I think about that quote often now when I think of all the people I’ve met in the streets through the years. I think about that when I think about what drove me to do the things I do, and when I try to puzzle why other people do what they do, whether they’re screaming for change, or just sitting at home.
I believe there’s a hole inside all of us. There’s an emptiness we can all feel that’s just out of reach. It’s something we can’t touch or taste, something that sits on the tips of our tongues and on the edge of our lips. Religious people might define it as a lack of spirituality or sickness of the soul. Folks who aren’t can find any number of disorders or emotional and mental states to try to explain it. But the truth is, it’s something a little more.
And we try to fill that hole, that emptiness, with things every day. Some people do it with money and material goods, some do it with booze or pills, others with work, or a quest for power and authority, and some shut down and spend their days in the dark watching hours of television. Whatever it is though, however we choose to try to fill that void it’s never enough. And it will never be enough, so long as we continue to ignore that the very fabric of the world we live in is threadbare.
Because the world is broken. Because shit’s fucked up. Because shit’s fucked up and bullshit. Because things have been so fucked up for so long, so many of us don’t even know where to start to fix it. Because we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the things we’re shopping for while bombs are dropping are made by slave labor. We should do something about the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people in prisons across the planet who might never see the sunlight again. Because it’s more than an outrage that while a nation can afford to spend 8 billion dollars on an aircraft carrier, it can’t afford to help the sick, the hungry, or the mentally ill. But it’s no one specific person’s fault, no one political party or group of people can be blamed for generations of problems. No one issue can simply be fixed to solve it all.
I think about all the people that I’ve met and what brought them to the place they are. Whether they’re doing prison solidarity work, fighting racism fascism or sexism, trying to stop wars, defend civil rights, feed the hungry and find funding for mental health care; or the ones who are able to go home, shut the door, and pretend that it’s not happening. I think about what I learned and what I feel each time I’m in the street, and the times I decide to stay home and ignore the ills of the world. And the biggest thing I think I’ve learned is that the emptiness we all feel could be filled by building a community.
Because we all know something’s wrong, and we all know the world needs to get better. That other world some of us chant about? Yeah, it’s possible. Hell, it’s even probable. But in order to do that we need to build bonds that form a true community the world over. Because when you get right down to it, all we as humans have in this world is each other. Whether we’re sick or tired or poor, imprisoned by the state, persecuted by our own personal problems, or part of any number of huddled masses yearning to breathe free, none of us can do it alone. When I look out to the crowds of people screaming for change, when I talk to people planning actions, creating freedom schools, hosting teach ins, defending foreclosed homes, building networks of information to spread the word, or any number of other things, I see the forming of a new community. A global community. A world where all people realize that none of us should have to do these things or feel this way, because it’s a world where everyone has everything they need. And that world starts with us.
(Adapted from a piece originally read at the event “End The NATO5 Witch Hunt” in October 2012)