Wow! How time flies! It seems like only forty years ago that my friends of that time and I had talked ourselves into being optimistic about the future. We thought that we could stop War (in Viet Nam and more generally), save the Planet, end Imperialism and Racism (while sadly, in my case, remaining silent on Sexism), humanize Capitalism… and otherwise make living worthy of Life itself.
I recall, for example, the sign on which I had handwritten some of the lyrics to The Doors‘ song, Five to One:
The old get old, and the young get stronger/
May take a week, and it may take longer/
They got the guns, but we got the numbers/
Gonna win, Yeah we’re taking over—
Even forty years on, those words still remind me of the optimism and enthusiasm and determination we felt back then.
Were we ever wrong! We overestimated the power of doing what we saw as being “Right On”, and we underestimated the power that such “-isms” generated for institutions whose doing perpetuated the very oppressions that generated their power—and against which we saw ourselves as fighting. As it turned out, they had more than “the guns”, and we didn’t have enough “numbers”—not enough patience, either.
The result? For me, it was a major case of disillusionment. I know, I know: that’s just what “they” wanted. Oh, over the intervening decades, I worked for justice, but my efforts still felt the drag of that disillusionment. It’s a vicious cycle: disillusionment feeding on disillusionment. Different people coped differently. Me? I got by with “(more than) a little help from my friends (and relatives)”.
But, like the Luke Skywalker’s wing man in the original episode of StarWars, who resignedly screamed, “I can’t shake him” (just before being vaporized), I couldn’t shake my disillusionment (although I haven’t been vaporized… not yet). Indeed, such was my disillusionment that I felt I needed to mention it to a “girlfriend” of almost twenty years ago, a woman who was more than ten years younger than I. I recall telling her that the most important thing about me that our age made unlikely she could know was that there had been a time when I had been hopeful, but that my hope had been dashed… and then I told her about my disillusionment and how it had affected me.
Regrettably, I now realize, I spoke to her in self-celebration, as if Tom Brokaw had instead chosen to write “The Noblest Generation” about “My Generation” (The Who). No generation has it “easy”; at the very least, as The Doors pointedly reminded us: “Five to one, Baby, one in five / No one here gets out alive.” Still, whatever its source, disillusionment is disillusionment, and it is hard to shake.
Then I heard Barack Obama speak. Almost immediately—not quite, but almost—he reinvigorated me. In ways that no one ever had and that I had given up hope anyone ever would, he spoke his way around my “won’t get fooled again” (The Who, again) defenses that I had built over the by then nearly four decades to protect me from feeling both my disillusionment and the disillusionment from my own cover-up. Obama made me think, should I risk hoping again? Maybe I should consider risking hoping again. Maybe I can risk hoping again. Yes we can! He had me. Or was it we who had me? I realized when I saw him live that I would take a bullet for him, a thought I had never thought for any other President (or candidate for President, as Obama was then). I thought he could lead that much of a change that I could believe in.
But, memories of the onset of my disillusionment admonished me. I hoped, Obama better not let us down. Then I hoped, we had better not let Obama let us down. Finally, I got personal: I had better not let Obama let us down.
And that is what made me write this letter, and allowed me to write it on emotion alone, in a single sitting. This morning, as the silly season gets underway, and pundits start spinning, and hypocrites are a dime a dozen, NPR reported that many of the first-time voters in 2008, whose votes provided Obama his winning margin, might stay home in the upcoming elections. To them I say, please vote. Because I am sure that I won’t be able to get undisillusioned again. I don’t want that to happen, and neither do you… not to any of us.
Which brings me to my closing plea, mixing the languages of two different “time zones”: Keep the faith, Baby! Yes we still can!
Robert A. Letcher, Ph.D describes himself as “an academic with a disability instead of a portfolio, a writer, and a Qigong practitioner who tries to help people learn”.