discussion on hope and organizing

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Mon Jun 16 12:00:00 CDT 2003

[ed:  Michael is replying to Paul Loeb's essay posted on the 
Announcements page.  To access the original essay, go to 
May/000378.html (web address wraps to two lines) ]

From: Doc Byrd <darkhorsedoctor at yahoo.com>

Reclaiming Without Reducing: A Response to Paul Loeb’s Views 
on Post-War Hope  

A Short Essay by Michael Byrd, Ph.D.  

"Is it possible to find happiness without hope? And once possession 
is achieved, there is no question of hope, for possession does away 
with hope." --Miguel de Unamuno, THE TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE 

In his article, Reclaiming Hope:  The Peace Movement After the 
War, Paul Loeb is undoubtedly right about the calculated and 
misleading efforts by the Bush administration and its associates to 
sustain an unjust war.  U.S. officials now admit what many of us 
predicted would happen before and during the war in Iraq:  they did 
not anticipate the complete collapse of civil authorities resulting 
from the war’s destruction. Iraqi civilians are indeed experiencing 
widespread shortages of food and electricity. While President Bush 
waged war with spoken conviction to “protect Iraqi oil supplies for 
the Iraqi people,” Iraqi people now sit in Iraqi gas station lines that 
are one mile long and three cars wide.  

The prosecution of the right wing’s “other war” on truth and 
accuracy during the war was even more ugly than the current 
intolerable peace. How many times did we hear media reports 
about the line around Baghdad where WMD were going to be used 
as well as those about alleged plans to use WMD in Baghdad 
neighborhoods?  Ethereal reports on impending inhumanities 
drifted through news reports and vaporized the more ground 
actually gained by coalition forces.  These “dirty tricks” media 
campaigns are indubitably one of the reasons why in some surveys 
anger towards President Bush is on the rise among Democratic 
voters.  In fact, anger is rising to levels as high as that of 
Republican voters toward Bill Clinton in the 1990s (CNN, 06/02/03).  

What remains to be seen is whether that anger will mobilize those 
on the left to the polls next year.  Loeb is rightfully attempting to 
shore up morale so that progressives will be mobilized to vote.  
However, as someone with a vested interest in community 
organizing before and after 2004, I would like to argue for a 
stronger distinction between morale and hope than Loeb seems to 
provide us in his article on hope.  Distinguishing between 
movement morale and profound hope might help sustain 
participants beyond the war, beyond next year’s elections.  

Morale has to do with spirits and emotional disposition in the 
immediate situation.  Hope has to do with an extraordinary sense of 
the not-yet, a superrational inclination toward ultimate good in the 
face of common suffering, struggle, toil, and defeat.  Morale has to 
do with meeting expectations, strategies, and foreseeable goals.  
Hope has to do with the unseen promise of justice that strives 
beyond expectations, strategies or goals.  Morale has mostly to do 
with stopping wars and winning presidential elections for the time 
being.  Hope is the constant, gnawing, driven awareness that the 
mere accomplishment of strategic and political goals is insufficient 
to the larger vision of justice.  Morale depends on motivational 
leaders who keep the spirits of their followers from lagging. Hope 
already accepts that tragedy and defeat are a part of life and even 
so looks to the promise that right will overcome, if not now then 
later (in the parlance of black preachers, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s 
a’comin!”).  However, hope sobers us to keep the little victories and 
our morale peaks in perspective and helps us not to confuse them 
with hope.  

>From my perspective, community organizations require attention 
both to 
>morale and hope.  However, they also require diligence in not 
>the two.  I can have profound hope even at my morale’s lowest 
>Likewise, I can despair of any ultimate hope yet gladly—even 
>cynically—take pride in helping to leverage the end of a dubious 
>policy.  High morale and profound hope are not the same things.  
>once and a while—and unquestionably the current situation is one 
of those 
>“whiles”—groups need a morale boost.  Usually, almost always, 
groups also 
>require an erstwhile hope based on revelations that are, in the 
words of Michael Walzer, “already in our possession, incorporated, 
as it were, long ago, familiar and well-thumbed by now.”  

The civil rights struggles of the recent past carry in their account 
sources for touching base with profound hope in the midst of a life 
that tends to harbor defeat, chaos and destruction for most but the 
wealthy and powerful.  From the repertoire of freedom songs to the 
movement halfway houses to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ideas of self-
purification to the acts of direct action supported by self-determined 
black institutions there were constant local, interpersonal 
mechanisms breeding hope in the civil rights south.  Likewise, we 
should strain and listen beyond the rising and ebbing tides of our 
need for affirmation; strain and listen for a hope in justice that is 
larger than our immediate projects to obtain justice through 
recognizable means.  There are some ideas that can bridge the 
mobilization goals and particular group values.  Justice is one of 
those: it can be at once a pragmatic attempt to achieve equity in 
political and economic relations and an approximation of parochial 
ideals of love.  On the other hand, hope is frame of mind that 
cannot possibly hold the sum of all wishes or goals. It is more 
personal and spiritual than either justice or the high morale that 
movement leaders seek to maintain.  

One does not lift up people’s hopes from the top as one affirms 
their goals and lifts their morale.  Hope is not detachable from the 
communities hopefully generated.  Hope occurs most effectively in 
the face-to-face, familial, congregational, and associational 
networks that constitute the nanoengines of national and 
international movements.  And hope is just as vital to social 
movements as morale is.  Hope reminds us that successes and 
stronger social ties do not inevitably lead to greater levels of 
humanity.  In fact, hope reminds us of Reinhold Niebuhr’s point that 
any group may at any time act more inhumanely than 
individuals—and “our” groups are not immune.  

Hope reminds us that when we lose (and we will lose from time to 
time), our loss cannot tip the balances ultimately toward injustice, 
because a good-bigger-than-our-own must triumph in the end.  
Hope causes us to reflect on the ways that winning may cost us 
more if we settle for less than we should in order to obtain greater 
power and influence.  Hope reminds us that our morale is an entree 
into sustained hopefulness rather than the sum of all our hopes.  
Hence, social movements require both affirmation in the name of 
keeping spirits up and the presence of networks underneath that 
drive us hopefully.  

To bend a popular aphorism to make my point:  hope, like all 
politics, is local.  While I concede the importance boosting morale 
in order to forestall future wars and defeat President Bush in the 
next election, I also argue that the peace movement should not so 
focus its intentions nationally and electorally that it loses hope in 
the name of morale.  Any truly just social change depends more on 
self-determination at the local level than on the constitution of our 
federal government from 2004 to 2008.  Likewise, those who might 
have “melted away” from the movement need to have their 
attention re-directed to the local level first.  That is where they are 
more likely to find hope with or without respect to morale.  

What is our responsibility to the college student, mentioned by 
Loeb, who had her morale dashed by the war in Iraq?  Along with 
trying to affirm her stance, we need to help her develop a more 
reflective understanding of having hope.  She needs to be exposed 
to the “familiar and well-thumbed” annals on struggle and suffering 
at the heart of hope.  I would suggest some preliminary readings 
like the chapter on the Mississippi Freedom Rides in Taylor 
Branch’s PARTING THE WATERS and selections from Dee 
Brown’s BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, both of which 
provide some perspective on suffering that people in social 
conflicts sustain.  My short reading list would also include William 
Greider’s WHO WILL TELL THE PEOPLE and Stephen William 
Foster’s THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY to indicate some of 
the morale-grinding forces that hope spurs us to overcome.  The 
last half of Robert Fisher’s LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE would also 
be a great introduction to the history of sustained local organizing 
beyond that of election years or political crises like wartime.  She 
also should be plugged in locally with groups that have the 
personal (if not spiritual) ties that I spoke of earlier.  Along with 
helping her stay motivated to work toward 2004, we also need to 
help her discover a more profound hope that will carry her through 
2014, 2024, etc.  

In claiming a more profound definition of hope than I think Loeb’s 
article accords, I readily confess my Christian bias toward 
reclaiming hope. I will not make any bones about the theological 
undercurrent supporting my understanding of hope. However, I also 
have broader bias for the capacity for people’s self-determined 
reliance on hope. I do not believe that we can sustain the long-term 
perspective that Loeb calls us to without maintaining the important 
distinctions between morale and hope. Nor may we motivate 
people to stay if they lose their initiative when morale lags, as it 
inevitably does, absent all hope.  

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