I have long believed that effective activism toward a better world is difficult if undertaken solely as a reaction to what we oppose. Without a positive vision, and the faith that it is achievable, we act in ways that may be ineffective, even harmful. It is well established that expectation creates outcome. To create the world we seek, we require an idea of what that looks like. Findings in the scientific literature [also here and here] and popular media [also here] bear this out: What we expect to happen is more likely to happen. Moreover, what we expect of others influences them to behave in ways that meet our expectations.
I’m not arguing that high expectations would lead the incoming leader to suddenly become rational or “presidential.” But we can still take a certain kind of positive approach. If, rather than simply reacting with disgust and dismissal, we are able to evaluate him with the astuteness of, say, a Vladimir Putin, we might discern ways to have a positive impact.
So, is there a plausible positive vision for the time ahead? I think there is.
During the 1960s, the nation suffered through the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, candidate Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and others. Thousands of young men were drafted and sent to Vietnam, where many were killed or wounded in body or in spirit. Yet the sixties and the early 1970s also saw massive social progress. Civil rights, feminism, and environmentalism made huge strides. In a terrible time, visionary movements not only pushed back against the darkness; they brought forth new light.
The silver lining I see in the very, very dark cloud we face is the possibility that the coming period will bring forth a level of progressive activism the likes of which we’ve never seen — one that moves our society far forward, leaving the current backlash in the dustbin of history. This won’t happen without huge setbacks and great pain; but if we keep our eyes on the prize, I think we can get there.
Here are some reasons I have hope:
- The new administration comes in with an incredibly weak “mandate” — losing the popular vote by nearly three million, with polls showing 51% disapproval of the presidential transition (versus 12% disapproval of Obama’s transition eight years ago). Many Republican leaders are already publicly expressing dismay about the guy in charge. (In response to a series of tweets slamming civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis, one Republican Member of Congress tweeted at the president-elect, “Dude, just stop.”) The new administration is assembling a largely incompetent team (with not much government experience [more info here] and little education) who stand a good chance of being rather ineffectual.
- People are ready for action in a way that I’ve never seen. Folks around me are eager to jump at the chance of doing something. I’m hearing people talk of retiring from their careers to focus on social activism. Communities of all sorts are gearing up for action. And the frantic, factually challenged, strategically unsophisticated chain-mail and chain-post “urgent alerts” are starting to give way to well-thought-out resistance. →