End of the World

Risking Hope: Who Could Have Seen That Coming?

So it would be just peachy if everything worked out all cause-and-effect-like. Two-plus-two-equals-four. You cut onions: your eyes tear up. The cat is  in the box whether you look inside at it or not.

(Unless, of course, you are Schrodinger. Then all bets are off.) 6843256290_367c299519_o

So it was this past Monday, when climate amaza-trons Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara were

going to trial for blockading a coal freighter at Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset—using an old wooden lobster boat christened the Henry David T.—for the sole reason of addressing the climate crisis. In what looked to be an unprecedented case in the United States, they were set to be the first to use a “necessity defense” in a direct-action civil disobedience case centered on climate change, arguing that what they did was justified for the sake of public health and safety.” (The Nation, September 8)

Photo by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Photo by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

On May 13, 2013, those hope-filled fools blocked a shipment of coal from being loaded onto a transport ship by parking their boat in the middle of the channel with one big-ass anchor. One day’s delay is what they got. One could say, not much was accomplished. The coal was eventually delivered. Was it worth all the fuss? They had to have seen that coming. What was the point?

Yet a message was heard loud and long and in unexpected quarters with unanticipated results. The Bristol County District Attorney, Sam Sutter, responded on the day of the trial (September 8) by dropping criminal conspiracy charges (they were reduced to civil infractions) and calling climate change,

“one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced”

He also said

“political leadership on this [climate] issue has been gravely lacking”

He concluded by sharing with a surprised and exuberant crowd of people that in two weeks’ tie, he would be in New York City taking part in the People’s Climate March.

Why’d he do it? The Cynic would suggest the prosecutor has decided to court that part of the citizenry who is worried about climate change, perhaps eyeing a higher public office.

The right-wing conspiracy theorists would say the whole thing was for show, that Sutter was in cahoots with the Lobsterboat Blockade the whole time. But I was a part of a conversation this week with someone who had been a part of the strategizing for the trial. They had absolutely no idea that the prosecutor would basically validate their “necessity defense.” Who could have seen that coming?

It turns out there had been a continuous, though often invisible and not wholly traceable, wave of information and action and engagement and resistance and further engagement and research and facts and news reports and horrible tragedies and disastrous weather events and despair and crazy connections that would somehow not so much as result in this outcome, but still bring this outcome to our doorstep.

Thank the Universe (or Lord Vishnu or the goddess or the stars)!

viagra It reminds me the chapter on Viagra in Rebecca Solnit’s book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilites. She does not write about the results of that pharmaceutical on the (im)potence of men. Instead, she writes about how, with the advent of its use to treat erectile dysfunction, there was a decrease in Asian countries of the acquisition of aphrodisiacs made from the fuzz of adolescent Caribou antlers, which meant that somehow, unexpectedly, perhaps explained by chaos theory, more Caribou lived into adulthood. Who could have seen that coming?

Sometimes the world is crushingly predictable.  War after war after war.  Yet sometimes, unpredictably, it is not.  Sometimes, hopeful things happen, despite the darkness, despite the cruelty, despite the stupidity.  And those things happen sometimes when we can predict they will, but sometimes, they just happen.  We can’t trace it back to its origins, we can’t figure it out, though we keep putting our hopeful energy towards it.

In a different chapter, entitled, “Looking Into Darkness,” Solnit writes,

“Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

Rebecca Solnit. Photo by David Butow
Rebecca Solnit. Photo by David Butow

“I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should show you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”

If we risk hope, I wonder what we can see coming next?

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