What is Progress?
Keep Your Mind Balanced And Your Eyes On The Prize
I recently heard Billy Crystal joking that back in 1989, the year the movie When Harry Met Sally was filmed, things in this country were very different. Back then, he said, George Bush was president, the economy was awful, and we were fighting a war in Iraq.
Funny stuff, if it weren�t so sarcastic, and, well, depressing. No, things today aren�t really very different from how they were fourteen years ago. And as an activist, it's sometimes hard not to get cynical and jaded when faced with the reality of it.
When I open my eyes I see that nothing seems to change. The bad guys are still in charge and the legacy that most people remember from eight years with Our Democrat Bill is the sordid details of his sex life in the Oval Office being the subject of the evening news -- day in and day out.
For me to be effective in the face of all the negative events conspiring in the world today, I have to find a delicate internal balance. I seek to acknowledge the progress that has been made, while staying unsatisfied with the status quo. It helps me to keep the long-term perspective when defining and evaluating progress, for deep down I'm always aware that, as a species, we could do so much better. So as I protest the war and the domestic social deform being perpetrated by our government, I know that we all choose for ourselves whether to see the glass as half full or as spilled all over the Bill of Rights. Personally, I consider the following points; they make me feel better, though not exactly at ease:
- African Americans are still disproportionately poor and undereducated, and there are very real efforts underway to do away with affirmative action altogether.
But they are no longer legally enslaved, segregated, or kept from voting (what about down in Florida in 2000, you ask? I said legally). Every now and then I even hear serious talk of reparations for slavery�this is progress, but I want more;
- Women still get paid less than men do for the same jobs; violence against women is still a huge problem; and exploitation of females in the mass media is rampant. But these days women can vote if they choose, get divorced if they choose, live alone if they choose, be lesbians if they choose, and have an abortion if they choose�this is progress, but I want more;
- Multi-national corporations fire people at will, poison our air and water without remorse, and force family-owned small businesses out of the market. But now they have to let workers off for the weekend or pay them overtime (at least in the USA), they can�t exploit children under sixteen, and they at least have to pretend to care about the environment�this is progress, but I want more;
- A corrupt two-party system still dominates national politics, and our �president,� who received less than a majority of the vote, and who seems as dumb as a rock, was appointed head of the world by the Supreme Court. But our �San Francisco Democrat� Nancy Pelosi is Minority Leader in the House, we get to vote again for president next year, and in San Francisco we have Matt Gonzalez, a registered Green, as President of the Board of Supervisors�again, this is progress, but I want more;
- Hate crimes against queers and other minorities still happen all too often; hundreds if not thousands of Muslims are being held without even being charged with a crime; and we are waging a war against the wishes of most of the world. But at least now the term "hate crime" exists and requires legal punishment; Arkansas actually repealed its sodomy law in 2002; and we are seeing a peace movement taking root that is the most organized and energized movement since the Vietnam War�real progress, but I still need more.
That�s my list. Make your own list and form your own attitude. Are you depressed? Cautiously optimistic? Both? Maybe it depends on the weather. For me, on one hand, I have to see the glass as half-full and keep noting the many strides we have made -- just to be able to live with the world, George W., a tanked economy, unprovoked war, and the rest. On the other hand, if we don�t see the possibilities and demand more, we will remain in this unjust rut we call 2003. For this reason, and for the record, I must keep asking questions:
When will the world learn to live in peace?
When will the rights of the individual trump those of the corporation?
When will the rich be forced to share with those in need?
When will our justice system be just?
When will the meek inherit the earth?
I anxiously await the answers, knowing it won�t be soon enough for me. And I keep working to shove the world in (hopefully) the right direction.
Randy Zurcher is an activist with Bluewater Network and a Green Party organizer living in San Francisco.
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