Friday, November 2, 2012

Dia de los Muertos: A moment to look back about how to go forward

I'd like to take a quick break from talking about the election and remember that today is the day we celebrate Dia de los Muertos in the United States. A few years ago I decided to start a tradition here of re-posting something a blogger named Madman in the Marketplace wrote back in 2006 about this day of remembrance. If you take just a moment to read his words, I think you'll understand why.
Today, in the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos, lets celebrate instead those who've fought dark times before, survived dark times before, PREVAILED in times that were much like what we face now.

I don't mean just the leaders, not just Elizabeth Cady Stanton, more than Joe Hill, not just Chief Joseph, not merely Martin Luther King Jr. or William Lloyd Garrison or Cesar Chavez. The authoritarians are the ones who have no choice but to elevate "great men" for them to FOLLOW...Our luminaries are only representatives of vast numbers of people most of us might never know by name, unless they were the grandfather who told you stories of old strikes, of meals of crusty toast with chipped beef gravy on top while sitting at his knee. Perhaps another who sat at an old formica kitchen table with tales of the struggle against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the mission schools, or stories related at family get-togethers of sitting at the back of the bus, grandmothers who remembered having no opportunity to pursue their own dreams because of their gender. Maybe your forebearers told stories of shame and having to hide who they loved, or the pressure to hide the fruits of having loved, of being spirited away to give birth in shame.

THIS Dia De Los Muertos, remember their struggles, but remember their COMMUNITY. Remember that unlike the right, unlike the worshippers of division and death, we can look back with joy and fondness at people who sang and danced and loved and communed DESPITE their struggles, despite the exploitation, the hatred, the discrimination and fear. They formed communities, they formed unions, they formed sewing circles and barn raisings and volunteer organizations. They rallied with their neighbors, mended fences, found common ground with NEW neighbors different from themselves. It's easy to remember the nativists, the klansmen, the misogynists and gay bashers and jingoists and bundists ... but also remember that there were ALWAYS good people opposing them, forging bonds, talking and working together to build a brighter, broader, more inclusive future. While there were slavers, there were abolitionists. When other men jeered and sniped, remember there were women who reminded others that a woman was every bit the equal of a man and should have a voice, and there were sons who listened to them.

Celebrate the artists, the writers, the musicians and performers who forged bonds between different groups of people, who showed us all that it's okay to be different, that different can be wonderful and exciting. Remember that every time that culture tried to expand our ties, broaden our conversations, help us see the world anew, the authoritarian minded tried to silence them, ban them, attack them, but over time the artists prevailed. From the churches and the juke joints, the beer halls and the smokey bars, from the salons to the corner table at the Algonquin, from coffee houses to underground clubs ... we can remember fondly those who found beauty and strength in the everyday and in the sublime and IN EACH OTHER. THIS Dia De Los Muertos, read their words, sing their songs, dance to their tunes, enjoy their paintings and sculptures and their videos. Remember that no matter how loudly, how violently, how insistently those afraid of openness and sharing and difference and change tried to stop it, the songs got sung, the rugs got cut, the words got read...

We can and will prevail, we will find a way to become a font for peace again. It doesn't matter how you add to the struggle, it not necessary for all of us to become politicians or full-time activists. You can help those who do that vital work by volunteering for them, or donating to them, or by merely talking to your neighbors, chatting with the frightened and cowed who you encounter in your daily life. Smile and quietly talk back to those who spread hate and fear. We are where we are because those with no faith in humanity TALKED TO EACH OTHER, and refused to compromise. We can do the same, because we believe in community, not division, and in community there comes strength. The fight, the struggle, the great human show continues, and throughout history given time and perserverance it has been the cultivators, not the extractors, who have brought beauty, peace and prosperity to the world. Over the next couple of days, remember them fondly, and let those memories inform your choices as we face the struggles ahead.
What struck me in reading this again today is the relentless optimism demonstrated by our ancestors in getting us to where we are today. I can't help but believe that what sustained that optimism was a grounding belief in the old saying..."the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." Its the North Star that kept them going when the odds appeared to be stacked against them.

I believe that when we listen to our ancestors, we're likely to hear that cynicism is our greatest foe and optimism (ie, hope) is the most radical act of all.

The best way I can think of to bring that home is to suggest that you watch this video and think about what it took to get us here.


  1. Mo'nin, Ms. Pants

    Thank you SO much.

    I'm cautiously optimistic in through here. Things are lookin' right nice. And, is MOST important to really appreciate HOW we've gotten here. There has, literally, been MUCH blood and sacrifice.

    A most appropriate vehicle for this reflection, then, is The Negro (NOT Black - Negro) National Anthem. This was written initially by the noted black academician James Weldon Johnson (a graduate of The Atlanta University - as am I for graduate school) as a poem and later set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson. The same melody that is heard in this clip.

    "Let Us March On 'Til Victory Is Won"

    1. I must admit that I used to get a bit muddled when I heard The Negro National Anthem. That was until I saw it put together with history in this video. I can't look at it without getting a bit verklempt.

      I am - by nature - an optimist...sometimes naively so. I suspect that's because pessimism seems to go hand in hand with victimhood - something I loathe!