Lately, I have found myself absorbed in continual political debate on various social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or my own personal blog. Some begin as friendly banter but quickly escalate to the point that I am pulling my car to the side of the road so I can furiously text a targeted retort on my Blackberry. In those heated moments, I wonder how far have we truly progressed since Obama’s historic election as president. Are we able to talk politics with those who don different partisan clothing in a way that we all feel like we are under the same big tent?
To ironically quote Rodney King close to the anniversary of the April 29, 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, “Can’t we all get along?”
In a small gathering in Los Angeles, 93-year old Grace Lee Boggs, who has spent over 70 years as a political activist and community leader, posed a different question to us, “What time do you think it is on the clock of the world?”
Immediately, I thought to myself, “what the hell is she talking about?” In this room of artists, organizers and educators, we greeted her question with silence.
Grace continues, “I listened to Obama speak this morning—his 100 days speech in Missouri. He talked about recovery, prosperity, but he didn’t talk as if it was an unusual time on the clock of the world. We need to think we’re in a watershed in human history/the history of the universe. We have the power to wipe out all living things on the planet. If we continue to live the way we have lived, all living things will be wiped out. How do we create the world anew, and accept the responsibilities of a majority in a country that is responsible for much of what has happened in the world?...How do we think about ourselves as responsible for the country instead of as victims asking to be part of their system?”
In that moment, I experienced a very unsettling shift inside. What does it mean to think of ourselves as part of the majority? I suddenly saw similarities between the recent conservative anti-Obama “Teabag” rallies on Tax Day and the more progressive anti-war rallies when the former President Bush first sent troops to Iraq. Both held signs and screamed from the sidelines and demanded justice from those in the seats of power. I realized that I know very well how to operate from the margins. When anti-immigrant legislation comes down the pipeline, I get up, organize and fight. When a hatecrime occurs, I get up, organize and fight. When an elected official utters an offensive remark that targets a particular group, I get up, organize and fight.
I know how to fight but I don’t know how to be responsible for the world.
Grace responds to my youthful passion and confusion, “When I was your age, I thought all we had to do was change the system. I thought about the system as something we can rub off the blackboard. You think about change differently as you grow older and do more things. We have to think about change differently…we have to transform ourselves and not just the system…Most of us think about revolution as getting more things. The next American revolution is about giving things up…I would say the most important thing is to relate to one another. That is the meaning of life, to relate to one another in a way that is human.”
Writer Naomi Klein created a word for those who expected more from an Obama presidency—“Hoperoots. Sample sentence: ‘It’s time to stop waiting for hope to be handed down, and start pushing it up, from the hoperoots.’” Grace Lee Boggs went deeper and simply touched each one of us –“we are hope.”
John Delloro is the Executive Director of the Dolores Huerta Labor Institute, LACCD and currently sits on the Legal Advisory Board of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance (KIWA) and the Board of Directors of the PWC. He was one of the co-founders of the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California (PWC) and served as the president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA). For the past decade, he also worked as a regional manager/organizer for SEIU 1000, Union of California State Workers, a staff director/organizer for SEIU 399, the Healthcare Workers Union, and an organizer for AFSCME International and HERE 226, the hotel workers union in Las Vegas.