The title and subtitle of this compendium say so very much. Comprised of essays from 49 leaders and activists – including Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Cornel West, Alice Walker, and Desmond Tutu – “The Impossible Will Take a Little While” is about finding hope, growing courage, and resisting fear. These essays were compiled post-9/11, when the world suddenly seemed darker, scarier, more sinister. Compiled in 2004, they were also written in a pre-Obama world that was unaware of how soon hope was rising, and in a pre-Trump world ignorant of the rising specter of fear and hate that would sweep the planet.
This book is a fantastic resource and a fluid read. The writers and works chosen to create this volume are strong, eloquent, and empowering. They cover a variety of backgrounds, experience, community, and voice, which make the whole that they create that much more powerful. And so, in an unusual approach, I will allow excerpts from the essays to speak for themselves.
“[I]t’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience – whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.”
“The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
– Howard Zinn, The Optimism of Uncertainty
“A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. … For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela, The Dark Years
“Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. …It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”
– Vaclav Havel, An Orientation of the Heart
“Given the catastrophic failure here and abroad of the Kyoto global warming accords, given our newfound post 9-11 imperialist exuberance, given the sagging of the world’s economy and the IMF-directed refusal to see any solutions beyond making poor people suffer even more than they always do in the hopes of reviving a market that only ever revives long enough to make the rich even richer, given the eagerness in Washington to explore new and tinier kinds of nuclear bombs, well, it’s sort of optimistic to believe it’s a supernova that’s going to get us. It’s clear that what’s much more likely to get us, if we are got, is our present condition of living in a world run by miscreants while the people of the world either have no access to power or have access but have forgotten how to get it and why it is important to have it.”
– Tony Kushner, Despair is a Lie We Tell Ourselves
“The important thing to know is that you are wanted. You are needed You are important. You are not only what democracy counts on, you are what democracy is.”
– Jim Hightower, Rebellion is What Built America
“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”
– Arundhati Roy, Come September
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail
“We need a moral prophetic minority of all colors who muster the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, and the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out into nothing, hoping to land on something. That’s the history of black folks in the past and present, and of those of us who value history and struggle. Our courage rests on a deep democratic vision of a better world that lures us and a blood-drenched hope that sustains us.
This hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism adopts the role of the spectator who surveys the evidence in order to infer that things are going to get better. Yet we know that the evidence does not look good. The dominant tendencies of our day are unregulated global capitalism, racial balkanization, social breakdown, and individual depression. Hope enacts the stance of the participant who actively struggles against the evidence in order to change the deadly tides of wealth inequality, group xenophobia, and personal despair. Only a new wave of vision, courage, and hope can keep us sane – and preserve the decency and dignity requisite to revitalize our organizational energy for the work to be done. To live is to wrestle with despair yet never to allow despair to have the last word.”
– Cornel West, Prisoners of Hope