Monday, February 23, 2009

All kinds of courage: facing the hard times

Counseling grad students getting ready to defend and getting ready to pop out of the pipeline into a scary job market. Likewise counseling undergrads and parents who are deeply scared about the economic future. Here's a distillation of my response:

This nation threw off an empire (we'll leave to another post our *assumption* of the mantle of empire). We helped win the First World War--a pointless war, undertaken for asinine reasons of greed on all sides, but one that had to be ended. We helped defeat Hitler, though for the worst possible reasons and at the last possible moment. Black people and white people put their bodies on the line to end Jim Crow. Drag queens stood up to New York cops at Stonewall in '74. Allen Ginsberg "Ohm'd" an entire party of people out of Grant Park at Chicago in '68. FDR led us out of the Great Depression--oh and by the way spawning an entire couple of generations of great people's art--and framed the "Four Freedoms", surely one of the most powerful, courageous, and humane articulations of the inherent dignity of human beings. The suffragettes endured water houses and forced feeding to win the vote. Mother Jones stood against mine owners and their thugs. Mailer and the hippies levitated the Pentagon in '65. We brought Buddhism to America. Washington, Lafayette, and von Steuben held their ragged bloody-footed volunteers together through the sub-zero winter at Valley Forge. Lincoln fought slavery to a standstill. Malcolm repudiated Elijah Muhammed; Martin stood on the bridge at Selma.

We are not a fearful people. Regardless of the brutality, greed, and cynicism with which oligarchs have tried to persuade us otherwise, we will not be defeated. But it has to begin with courage, compassion, and sacrifice.

We have to *rise* to this challenge--not sink.

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