One Question is a regular series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.
This time, at the beginning of 2020, we ask:
Are you optimistic about the new decade?
With responses from: Leo Zeilig; Zillah Eisenstein; Prabhat Patnaik; María Pía Lara; Minqi Li; Lindsey German; Doug Henwood; Dario Azzellini; Heikki Patomäki; Henry A Giroux and Ourania Filippakou; Richard Falk.
Researcher, writer and novelist. His recent biography, Frantz Fanon: The Militant Philosopher of Third World Liberation (2015) was published by I B Tauris. Zeilig’s latest novel, An Ounce of Practice (2017), is set in Zimbabwe and published by Hoperoad. Find him on Twitter: @LeoZeilig.
Two major developments will be central to the next decade – and consequently for the rest of the century.
The last decade ended as it began, on the streets, in occupations and in revolutionary possibilities. The constant grind of capitalism ensures that nothing settles for long. No counter-revolution is secure, but nor is the mighty political riposte from below. The movements of popular classes across the world, in strikes, protests and uprisings, will continue to take place in societies riven by economic, political and increasingly ecological crises that not only generates terrible human misery but recurrent rebellions.
The arch of protest that we saw at the end of the decade, emerging first from Sudan, then Algeria, and breaking out elsewhere, Chile, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, will continue this decade. However, popular forces must generate the new organisations and politics that the radical Left need, and that can power these uprisings and revolutions to create real anti-capitalist alternatives. If this does not happen, as we have seen repeatedly in the past, the movements will, at best, only yield a recycled elite – a renewal of austerity, under new leadership. A genuine alternative for the world will require action, agency and intervention.
The second major development, not unconnected to the first, will be intensification of climate activism in the 2020s. September last year saw seven million people strike together to insist on action to save the world from a climate emergency. While the major protests were in the Global North, activists also mobilised across Africa and the Global South. From 20-27 September, there were protests in Nairobi, Cape Town, Kampala and Lagos. Demonstrators marched and petitioned in their hundreds, and occasionally thousands.
In the protests in Africa many made the fundamental point that although the continent has caused little of the climate crisis, it is extremely vulnerable to its effects. The economic system of boundless consumption and ecological exhaustion is at the heart of the climate crisis and must end this decade – but like all things, it will only end with pressure from mass movements and activists prepared to take on the polluters and their government backers.
The life and death of millions will depend on these two possibilities – radical anti-austerity revolutions and uprisings, linked to militant anti-capitalist environmentalism. There have been few decades as decisive as the one we now face.
Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in New York for the last 35 years and presently a Distinguished Scholar in Residence. Her books include The Audacity of Races and Genders: A Personal and Global Story of the Obama Campaign (Zed/Palgrave, 2009); Sexual Decoys: Gender, Race and War in Imperial Democracy (Zed/Palgrave, 2007); and Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in The 21st Century (Routledge, 1996). Her website is at: zillaheisenstein.wordpress.com.
I like words when they help me think. Words always have a context and are embedded in meanings and exclusions, and also false universals. Optimism feels like a false binary – buoyant, cheerful, encouraged versing negative, defeatist, and gloomy; optimism vs. pessimism, so to speak. I think I am neither but rather that I am determined to not give up.
About thinking of ‘the next decade’? I think this is all about ‘time’. And about how urgent it is to know that time matters. Not tomorrow, but today. Thinking about decades allows us too much leeway – it facilitates escape when there is none. There is not a decade to stop climate disaster.
I am determined to keep the world in my visor when I think about risking myself: the climate disaster fires in Australia; the civilians in Iraq and Iran; the people in Puerto Rico still suffering from the Hurricane and now earthquakes with no electricity; the people in Kashmir, cut off from everything and forgotten; the concentration camps of Uyghur in China; the wrongly incarcerated in our prison system; and, and…
But then there are also the million indomitable youthful protesters in Hong Kong, on the streets, for over seven months; there are the women of colour across the globe fighting hard for their families in the newest waves of immigrants and refugees; the left-wing activists in Chile once again mobilised against right-wing governments; and the women against violence movements across the planet.
I go to bed and wake most mornings wondering if the war with Iran is already fully in place; whether the caged in Guantanamo Bay have completely been lost to history; whether any of the ‘separated’ children will find their families again; whether all the lefties will ever get the fact that racist misogyny undergirds every iota of capital exploitative relations; whether it matters if the Weinsteins and Epsteins of the world are punished; knowing/accepting that my list is too long to keep listing and I just have to live defiantly with all these queries while going forward. While so much is not new, little differences matter, and Trump’s gross hateful rapist mentality both determines that I will find voice and exhausts me.
By interrogating the question I have answered it… I am determined to make sure Trump does not win in 2020 and then to make sure that the climate movement, and women’s movements and Black Lives Matter, and decarceration activism, and all the progressive movements for disabilities, and peace, and against hunger, and for sexual freedoms and gender indeterminacy, come together in a forceful glorious incoherent movement of movements to finally radicalise democracy away from its liberal and neo-liberal constraints and finally save the planet and free us all – out of every cage, and prison, and self-deprecating limitation.
So, I am not wondering about the next decade but tomorrow and the next day – just trying to make the next moment matter.
Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His books include A Theory of Imperialism (Columbia University, 2016) (with Utsa Patnaik) and Re-envisioning Socialism (Columbia University, 2012).
Yes I am optimistic about the new decade, because of what I see happening in India, which I believe is a refraction of the global picture. There is an upsurge of students, youth, and women, especially those belonging to oppressed minorities, all over India, against the attempt to impose a fascist State in lieu of the current democratic dispensation. This upsurge is not detached from the struggle of the workers and peasants, which too is growing.
The fates of the workers and peasants have also become palpably linked today, because the assault on the peasantry by the neoliberal economic order causes their displacement and migration to cities, where, in the absence of job opportunities, they swell the ranks of the reserve army of labour, to the detriment of the workers.
These oppressive features have been there for some time, especially since neoliberal capitalism has reached a dead end. What is encouraging now is the beginning of large-scale resistance, with people themselves beginning to see their struggles as linked.
The current struggles are not for socialism but for preserving democracy. But since I believe that the struggle for socialism is simply the end-product of a consistent struggle for democracy, as authentic democracy is realisable only under socialism, I greatly value this upsurge of democratic struggles.
Of course the corporate-financial oligarchy, aligned now with religious majoritarianism, which is the spearhead of the drive towards fascism, will not yield easily. It will put up the most ruthless fight against the challenge to its dominance. Popular upsurges, as in the Arab world, can lose their way in the nitty-gritty of daily politics, especially with imperialism stepping in to diffuse them.
But, even assuming that there is a temporary respite from fascism and a re-establishment of a liberal bourgeois order, two points would still be undeniable: first, this itself would have represented a victory for the people, in the sense that their basic freedoms would have been restored which would only augment their capacity to fight; second, such a liberal political dispensation cannot overcome the economic crisis of neoliberal capitalism, which gave rise to the fascist ascendancy in the first place.
The basic point is that neoliberal capitalism is at a dead-end; and the bourgeoisie does not know what to replace it with. The only way out of the crisis is transcending neoliberal capitalism as part of a process of transcending capitalism itself.
María Pía Lara
Full professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Mexico City) since 1983. Her work includes The Disclosure of Politics (Columbia University Press, 2013); Narrating Evil (Columbia University Press, 2007), and Moral Textures (Wiley, 1998).
One needs to start with Antonio Gramsci’s famous phrase ‘I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist of the will’.
No one who wants to see social transformation can ignore Gramsci’s serious conviction of having them both at hand. Notice that Gramsci wrote his famous dictum while imprisoned. One could easily reach the conclusion that he was right in being a pessimist. Yet his work outlived him, becoming a major source of inspiration to others who wish to understand how conflicts, setbacks, and failures can be a way to convince others that better alternatives are possible. Inspired by him, I propose that we need a counter-hegemonic narrative against neoliberal myths.
Latin America could be a good example because we were the first neoliberal laboratory. Decades of abuse, extended poverty, and coups d’états organised with the help of US governments produced tragedies everywhere. It is no coincidence that it was in Latin American where the ‘Pink Tide’ (the turn to the left, away from the neoliberal model) was born.
The pink tide brought real changes against the most pernicious economic doctrines of neoliberalism. It became a huge counter-hegemonic example that allowed people to rethink the role of the state in countries like Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. These projects were seen as powerful because the dynamics inspiring hope for change in the horizons of world expectations could spread easily.
But despite the changes and gains made in these countries, the pink tide slowly came to an end. What happened? Well, we can allow despair to win over us and tell the grim story of how the elites with the help of the United States destroyed it. Or we can learn that hope and action feed each other, as Rebecca Solnit reminds us in Hope in the Dark, and try to rethink what kind of critique will be helpful for us to re-narrate the story of hope that the pink tide should inspire.
It is true that Rafael Correa’s successor in Ecuador (Lenin Moreno) destroyed the gains that had been achieved; that in Uruguay, José Mujica retreated to his private life at the end of his presidential term, and a conservative leader won the last election; and that Bolivia’s recent coup d’état was made possible because the Bolivian elite was backed by Trump’s government.
Yet, there are many factors that we still need to consider: Correa wrongly trusted Moreno. Evo Morales made big mistakes, not least his decision to stand in another election. And imagining how such things could have been different is also called understanding. It is another way of re-engaging with hope and action.
Together, these events need our critical reappraisal with a long term perspective. Grief and hope can coexist and activate in us the need to reject tales of pure gloom, the essential vitamins of conservative inaction. In Solnit’s words, we possess ‘the power to change the world’ and ‘uncertainty and instability’ are also the grounds ‘for hope’. We should not consider neoliberal ‘common sense’ to be impenetrable. Their hegemony is being put to question in Chile, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina, where massive demonstrations against neoliberalism have taken place.
For politics, the spread of ideas and use of imagination are key to action. This was, I think, Gramsci’s secret weapon. We have one good reason to stick to hope: futures can be built, but only if we are capable of providing a powerful story in which the past of failures can be told as producing a chance for a new beginning.
Professor of Economics at the University of Utah. His recent books include The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Monthly Review, 2009), Peak Oil, Climate Change, and the Limits to China’s Economic Growth (Routledge, 2014), and China and the Twenty-first Century Crisis (Pluto, 2015).
What will happen in the 2020s? The world is currently about 1ºC warmer than in pre-industrial times. We can be fairly certain the global average surface temperature will rise by another 0.2 ºC during the coming decade. Given the likely trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming will rise above 2ºC by the middle of the century, paving the way for an accelerated rise of sea levels and other climate catastrophes.
North Korea is now basically recognised by all the big powers, unofficially of course, as a de facto nuclear power. The world has at least five official nuclear powers (US, Russia, UK, France, and China), three self-declared ‘illegal’ nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, and North Korea), and one undeclared illegal nuclear power (Israel). Iran recently withdrew from the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ that prohibited its nuclear weapon programs. Probably another dozen middle-sized powers have some form of nuclear weapon ambitions. Nuclear proliferation will continue in the coming decade, raising the chance of regional nuclear war or the possibility for some non-state organisation (terrorist or not) to have access to one or more nuclear warheads.
The current US business cycle has lasted 11 years. The coming year may or may not end with a US economic recession (which will probably be mild). The US Democratic Party will again fail to produce a progressive candidate and Trump will be re-elected. The second Trump administration will further destabilise the global system and slowly dismantle the neoliberal global division of labour through protectionist policies and pressure on Chinese high-tech companies.
Is there any reason to be optimistic? China is likely to be the new epicentre of global economic crisis. By the end of the 2020s, Chinese society will be largely urbanised with a working class majority. History suggests that when that happens, workers and the urban middle class will demand political and economic rights that cannot be accommodated by a regime of authoritarian capitalism. If Chinese capitalism falls apart, global capitalism may go down with it. That might also save the climate. Although humanity still needs to worry about the nuclear wild card.
Socialist writer and campaigner. Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition. Teaches work, employment and equality at the University of Hertfordshire.
It’s hard to be a socialist as long as I have without being an optimist. You have to have a sense that working people can change the world and that their fundamental instincts of cooperation and solidarity can win through. At the same time it would be foolish not to feel some pessimism at the great challenges facing us at the beginning of the new decade. Climate change, war, poverty, inequality are all massive issues which – if not dealt with – will leave the world in a much worse place by 2030.
Their consequences for us will be manifold: migration through shortages of basic amenities or from danger; hunger and misery for many while a tiny number of the superrich accumulate more of the wealth of society. Politicians like Trump and Johnson who are incapable and unwilling to solve these crises will instead scapegoat and blame those who are suffering most and try to turn us against each other.
But I remain an optimist because I have seen how quickly ideas can change and how people can act to bring about a more equal world. I became politically active in the 1960s, where in the course of that decade we saw huge movements arise – against the Vietnam war, for civil rights and Black Power in the US, for women’s and gay liberation, against colonialism and empire. There was an emergence of working-class confidence and organisation which led to real gains.
History never repeats itself, but it has echoes. No one predicted the eruption of these mass struggles. Karl Marx talks about the old mole of history which burrows away, only to come suddenly to the surface. These campaigns changed society dramatically, and altered politics forever. Today, we already have mass movements on the streets. From Chile to Iraq to France people are protesting about the powers who rule over them and about the misery of their lives. Young people everywhere are taking the lead, often in the face of much repression. The working class is beginning to organise again.
Gradual reform cannot deal with these crises, which have at their root capitalism in its neoliberal form. We need systemic change and the kind of emancipatory democratic socialism which genuinely gives us the power to change society collectively and to establish control over our lives.
Brooklyn-based economic journalist. He’s a contributing editor of The Nation, and has written for Harper’s, Bookforum, The Baffler, the Socialist Register, and Jacobin. Henwood hosts a weekly radio show, Behind the News, which originates on KPFA, Berkeley. His books include Wall Street (Verso, 1997), After the New Economy (The New Press, 2003), and My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (Seven Stories, 2015).
An American is almost legally bound to be optimistic. We’re the people who turned psychoanalysis, conceived of by Freud as a method for transforming hysteria into ‘normal unhappiness’, into a system of ‘mental hygiene’. As Ronald Reagan once put it, quoting our ur-optimist: ‘Our most glorious achievements are just ahead. America remains what Emerson called her 150 years ago, “the country of tomorrow.”’
I’ve never shared this temperament; Freud’s central European gloom always appealed to me more. But lately our national religion of compulsory cheer has been under siege. Trump is the first politician I remember who succeeded with a backward-looking appeal. Unlike Bill Clinton, who promised to build a bridge to the 21st century, Trump wants to bring back the past, the days when America was allegedly great. But his isn’t a misty, soft nostalgia: much of the time his face is twisted into a furious snarl.
Out of a contrarian spirit, I’m almost tempted to take up optimism, though it doesn’t come easily to me. It is an uphill struggle. Aside from the snarling Trump and his hardcore reactionary support, not to mention many like him around the world, there’s the climate crisis and a deeply sick economic structure to worry about.
Countering that is the leftward shift in American politics of a sort we haven’t seen in at least 50 years: the two Sanders campaigns for the presidency; the election of open socialists to Congress, state legislatures, and city councils; and the surge in the number of mostly younger people identifying as such. (A year ago, I would have said something similar about Corbyn; score one for the gloomsters.)
With the USSR dead for almost 30 years, and capitalism delivering little more than debt and disappointment for the bottom 80% of the population, redbaiting has lost most of its power. The reticence about asking big questions and making big demands, which dominated left politics (such as it was) from the 1980s onwards, has dissolved.
That fills me with hope, but a consequent dread soon sets in. The American establishment looks unwilling to tolerate even a mild dose of social democracy. They’ve had it their way for so long that something like Canadian-style national health insurance seems like full revolutionary expropriation. Panic is setting in as they realise that Sanders has a half-decent shot at winning the Democratic nomination, and maybe even the presidency. My new-born optimism looks on their anxiety with cheer, and these political possibilities with joy.
Then my inner pessimist asserts himself. I could quote Friedrich Engels’s description of the French authorities’ crackdown on the insurrection of 1848: ‘[It] showed to what insane cruelties of revenge it will be goaded the moment the proletariat dares to take its stand against them as a separate class…’
Instead, I’ll go with a far more mainstream source, Financial Times columnist Rana Foroohar, who writes of the 1930s: ‘Robert Paxton’s book The Anatomy of Fascism makes the point that the rise of extremists in many of the European countries where they attained real political power, was aided by the fact that businesses worried more about the possibility of wealth redistribution than about the threat of political extremism.’
So, I’m looking to the new decade with ambivalence. That’s a departure from pessimism, but it’s well short of optimism.
Visiting Scholar at the Latin American Studies Program, Cornell University (Ithaca). Recent publications include The Class Strikes Back: Self-Organised Workers’ Struggles in the Twenty-First Century (Brill/Haymarket, 2018) with Michael G. Kraft. More information: www.azzellini.net.
Climate catastrophe, extreme right-wing governments and rising fascism and racism, increasing inequality, wars, displacement and rapidly spreading deadly epidemics. ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism,’ as Rosa Luxemburg wrote in an anti-war pamphlet in 1916. One hundred years ago bourgeois society opted for Barbarism, a choice supported even by social democracy. There is no reason to believe it will decide differently today.
In times of crisis the centre cannot hold. Historically it has always opted for authoritarian rule, militarism and fascism. We can see the same happening now. European governments, social-democratic and right-wing, prefer to support Turkey’s fascist regime and its wars against international law; the Christian-fascist coup in Bolivia; a self-proclaimed president in Venezuela; the bloody Saudi dictatorship and its war against Yemen and so on.
Not to speak of the social cuts, authoritarian rule and increasing police brutality in their own countries, or the Mediterranean transformed into a mass grave by their war against immigrants and refugees. The powerful are not willing to compromise anymore and want to keep even the crumbs for themselves.
There seems to be no reason to be optimistic. Nevertheless, I am optimistic: ‘Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,’ as a famous Gramsci quote says. The disastrous status quo bears – like every crisis – also the chance of fundamental transformation.
Against all odds, 2019 was also a year of massive protests and uprisings all over the world. Most of them continue in 2020, from Iraq to Chile, from Lebanon to Colombia. France is experiencing the longest strike in history, against Macron trying to dismantle the welfare system, starting with a harsh pension reform. Millions protest their governments’ inactivity regarding climate change. At the forefront of the struggles there are often women, who have also mobilised in a newly emerging class and race conscious feminism around the globe, displacing liberal white feminism.
People are demanding systemic change. The incompatibility of capitalism and democracy, even of capitalism and the survival of nature and the human species, is more obvious than ever. Liberalism has nothing to offer anymore. Popular movements and uprisings erupting again and again globally make me feel optimistic that this time the people will impose themselves over Barbarism.
Professor of world politics at the University of Helsinki, author of Disintegrative Tendencies in Global Political Economy: Exits and Conflicts (Routledge, 2018) and co-editor with Jamie Morgan of Brexit and the Political Economy of Fragmentation (Routledge, 2018).
The rational tendential direction of world-history is grounded in our collective human learning, making it possible to solve problems, absent ills and overcome contradictions by means of collective actions and by building better common institutions. The problem is that many processes are self-reinforcing and will follow a set path until something shows in a harsh manner how dangerous or unjustified that path can be.
Since Immanuel Kant, a long line of cautiously optimistic progressivists have been rather pessimistic about the human capacity to learn without first experiencing radical suffering. Indeed, the human past seems to suggest that a world-historical turning point takes a shattering crisis, such as a global depression, world war, or environmental catastrophe at a totally unprecedented scale.
Such crises are now in the making. The potentials of the end of the Cold War were wasted as free-marketers also seized their opportunity. Since the 2000s, the leaders of the biggest states and unions have actively undermined existing common institutions, typically even refusing to discuss alternative global institutional arrangements.
In global finance, the underlying super-bubble that has now lasted for four decades has continued to grow, gradually assembling conditions for what will be an even bigger crash than in 2008-9. The possibility of global military catastrophe is real and increasingly likely as the world has been reverting to nationalist statism, militarised conflicts and arms races.
Moreover, the evidence strongly suggests that global warming is now accelerating through multiple self-reinforcing mechanisms; it is occurring much more rapidly than previously thought possible. What is more, climate change is only one aspect of the massive on-going ecological crisis.
However, a rational society is also capable of learning in the absence of a catastrophe or a massive crisis. Although we are living through a period of stasis and regression, the futurised nature of the present has been changing through increasingly reflexive self-regulation of social systems. Anticipations are reflexive and can have effects on the future, whether we are talking about finance, trade, war or climate.
Global warming provides perhaps the most striking example. For the first time in world history, mass movements act on the basis of anticipations that cover the entire planet and decades and centuries to come. Human reflexive self-regulation aims now at maintaining sustainable life-friendly biogeochemical, climatic and socio-economic conditions. Whether this is too little, too late remains to be seen.
The same temporal transformation is occurring in other fields. Just consider how critical political economists and central bankers are assessing the possibilities for a new major crisis, or atomic scientists are warning about nuclear war. What is perhaps most important in all this is that reflexive self-regulation can contribute to improving the underlying social conditions of our ethico-political learning. Thus I remain cautiously optimistic that a massive catastrophe can be avoided and that the rational tendential direction of world-history will prevail.
Henry A Giroux and Ourania Filippakou
Henry A. Giroux holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His recent books include American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018), The Terror of the Unforeseen (Los Angeles Review of Books, 2019), and Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020).
Ourania Filippakou is Reader and Director of Teaching and Learning in the Department of Education at Brunel University, London. Her most recent book, co-authored with Ted Tapper, is Creating the Future? The 1960s New English Universities. (Dordrecht: Springer. 2019). She is also co-editor of the British Educational Research Journal.
In an age of rising right-wing populist movements, fascist politics, and authoritarian governments, it is difficult to think beyond an era of foreclosed hope. For us, one of the great dangers and challenges of the contemporary moment is that the power of hope becomes illusory and privatised. Under such circumstances, it becomes difficult for individuals to translate private troubles into public issues and systemic considerations.
Our optimism is based on the belief that the dream of a just and equitable society must challenge neoliberalism’s ability to use corporate controlled cultural apparatuses and state violence as weapons to impose what the novelist Toni Morrison states is ‘a coma on the population’, producing misery and traumas so deep and cruel that they ‘purge democracy of all of its ideals.’
Our optimism is also based on the perception that there is a growing resistance around the world, especially among young people, living in an age in which the threat of ecological disaster and nuclear war, and the ongoing assault on democracy by a savage neoliberalism are too urgent to ignore. Such dissatisfaction is growing globally, as indicated by a recent poll conducted by the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer that indicates 56% of people in 28 countries believe ‘that capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world.’
Central to our optimism about the next decade is the recognition that hope cannot take place without a struggle. We believe that such struggles are the outgrowth of radical social visions, expanding critical consciousness, and social movements that draw on the rich histories and legacies of resistance movements fighting for the defense of popular sovereignty and equality . Evidence of such struggles can be found in the growing resistance to neoliberalism in Chile, France, Peru, and Ecuador, among other countries.
Another reason for our optimism is based on a developing consciousness among a majority of people in the United States who support a range of progressive values such as Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, student loan forgiveness, free tuition, abortion rights, humane immigration policies, legislation that sustains the environment, a living minimum wage, and taxing the ultra-rich and big corporations. An embrace of similar values is sparking revolts in a range of other countries.
We believe that the threat to the planet and humankind is so urgent that there is no space in between from which to choose. The machinery of death unleashed by the avatars of neoliberal greed, disposability, and exploitation wears its horrors like a badge of honor. Yet, power is not only about domination but also resistance, which is now worldwide, mobilised by millions, and the call here is not just to win justice through phony elections but to shut down the militarised institutions, cultures, and ideologies of racism, exploitation, and human suffering through direct action.
Without hope there is no possibility for producing radical democratic mass movements that can both hold power accountable and implement transformative structural changes. We believe that agency is the condition of struggle, and hope is the condition of agency. Hope expands the space of the possible and becomes a way of recognising and naming the incomplete nature of the present.
It also recognizes in the words of the novelist, Lukas Barfuss, that ‘cynicism and resignation are simply other words for cowardice’, and that the possibility of a more just and humane world rests on the assumption that no society is ever just enough. Our optimism is a militant optimism which suggests a deep understanding of history, the importance of individual and collective agency, civic courage, and a sense that resistance is no longer an option but a necessity.
Professor Emeritus in International Law, Princeton University; between 2008-2014 he served as Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council; his most recent books are Power Shift: On the New Global Order (University of Chicago, 2016) and Revisiting the Vietnam War (University of Cambridge, 2017).
darkens green fields
flares Amazon skies
fake leaders slithering
toward real dangers
hither and yon
seek safe havens
hiding from truth
migrants fleeing despair
hiding from evils
Aung San Suu Kyi
this fallen Nobelist
her deadly message
two centuries ago
arrived in our midst
of America’s future
later lost to predators
seizing their loot
robbing the land
to wilting flowers
our grief becomes
a betrayed destiny
tainted at birth
off their sacred land
of holy innocence
the trusted voice
of Toni Morrison
is gone not lost
if we listen
if we listen
if we listen
all not yet all
nested eggs contain
our only hope
of what may yet come
of what to renounce
let’s start with gold
then learn not to hate
keep love joy truth
if we listen
if we listen
if we listen
first then act