Democracy in this country has become a spectator sport with everyone assuming the position of pundit. Writing a blog post/comment has become the definition of activism...except when we get really bold and call/tweet/email a member of Congress/the White House and tell them what we really think.
I say this even on the heels of the so-called OWS "movement." Certainly the people who have participated in "occupying" have done more than sit on their ass at home. But essentially all they've done is move their bitching to public spaces. If their goal had been to protest the lack of access to public spaces, they would have succeeded in taking appropriate action. But to sit in a park and yell at Wall Street until the cops kick you out is hardly an effective tool against the opponent they chose. Its the very definition of "sedentary agitation."
These day Teddy Roosevelt seems to be someone who spoke often about things we need to hear. Because when I think about all this, I can't help but be reminded of his words.
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
In other words, you can't score points until you get in the game. All the yelling from the sidelines won't cut it. But when you get in the game, not every play is going to work and sometimes the most important contributions go unnoticed. So we have to be prepared to do the grunt work and risk failure. That's why this poem by Marge Piercy will always be one of my favorites.
To Be of Use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
There is a collaborative rhythm, a grittiness and an invisibility that goes with work that is real...be it in politics or any other endeavor. Those who are willing to risk that are the real movers and shakers of the world as far as I'm concerned.