By Amy E. Jacobs
Hello again, this time from my desk in Arvada, CO (a suburb between Denver and Boulder), where I am grateful to finally be sitting after a 28-hour solo drive back from the east coast. I took some time post-convention to rest up and see some friends, including a trip to Kingston where I spent some time with Eric and had several insightful conversations about my experience. I arrived home on Friday.
I am planning a final article on the UpToUs Caravan, in which I will attempt to summarize the main themes that surfaced over the course of the journey, and some of the potential lessons to be learned. There are so many powerful experiences that I haven’t been able to include thus far, due mainly to the depth of commentary necessary to communicate them — each one could really be its own article. Once when I described this predicament to Eric he told me “you’ve got to just stick your teaspoon under the waterfall.” So that’s what I’ve been doing, though now that I’ve got a bit of distance from the intensity, I hope to offer a slightly more cohesive picture soon.
In the meantime, I have decided to highlight several of the reader comments on my previous articles. I had very limited internet access during most of the trip and was unable to engage with anyone in real time, for which I apologize — especially because the responses are deep, thought-provoking, and educational. Moreover, they are part of the discourse essential to any social movement. They provide background and contrast to my personal experience; they are as crucial as my own writing to the genuine communication I would like to have with PW readers, or with anyone who desires a clear sense of what is really going in this moment in history.
I have selected quotes from several comments, which I will present below with links to the articles they are referencing. I will offer a bit of my own commentary (in italics under each grouping), but mostly my intention here is to shine light on these unique viewpoints and let each reader take what is relevant for him or herself.
From Part 1, a quick introduction to the UpToUs Caravan, posted on July 17th:
“I worry that celebrities who do not have experience with political organizing take the lead on things, and what that means for the rest of us… also I wonder if this caravan is ‘contextualized’, ie with the history of protests that have happened at previous conventions, and what is the difference that makes this time the ‘enough is enough’ moment?
I worry that without a firm political analysis, such movement is a little lacking in foundation and fortitude. Hopefully the reporting will help draw out some of the political positions and visioning for what can be done to help shift the momentum of our society.” –Greg Macdougall
“This cosmic centrifuge we’re currently in, globally, is akin to a microwave as it requires contents to be more flexible, more fluid — those with ‘hard shells’ are guaranteed-to-blow and make a mess.” –Sus’n (in response to Greg)
Greg’s comment stuck in my mind as I started the journey. In an incident I have yet to write about, I had an unexpected opportunity to speak with Shailene Woodley, and I am sorry to report that her attitude seemed to confirm Greg’s misgivings, or at least demonstrate an area in which this movement demands expansion and maturity. I will describe this in more detail in my final article.
Ms. Jacobs: It took two reads to bring this to my conscious awareness: this particular piece of yours is prescient. Perhaps (along with being personally involved with your story’s subject matter) that’s how you overcame your “tendency to veer away from the nebulous world of human subjective experience;..” From my reading, at least, your participation with the UpToUs caravan is connecting you with a broader dynamic of event and field where separation and detachment are moot (if not an illusion). If i’m right about that, then yours has become a timeless, selfless, and transcendent perspective in and from which all is present. A lot of people have been known to work very hard for a very long time to be where and what you apparently already are. –Len Wallick
Although I can only pray to have achieved a “timeless, selfless, and transcendent perspective,” this comment feels important to share as it articulates clearly the dilemma of this reporting assignment — what Len describes is absolutely what I am striving for. I am open to all feedback regarding my attempt
“With respect to the generational thing, as a Boomer I remember vividly what happened in the ’60s and thereafter. I know that some of my age cohort will tell you that “you’re being naive, it can’t happen, it will never work, you’ll just get crushed in the end.” Here’s my take on that:
People in my generation went through the cultural upheaval of the ’60s and witnessed the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, the police riot at the 1968 Dem convention, Kent State, and so on. Following our idealism, we began to make changes, and received serious pushback from the powers that be, the military-industrial complex in particular. (Not that we all understood that fact, but we must have sensed it at some level.) Our parents were essentially helpless to respond effectively, because their generation – the one in charge at that time – respected and trusted authority. In a Facebook Bernie group discussion this week about the goings-on at the DNC, a young Sanders supporter asked if what they’re feeling now is like the outrage Americans must have felt at the time of Watergate. My response was that when Watergate came along, our parents’ generation was shocked and stunned, not outraged.
I believe the Boomers as a generation (and maybe the American people as a whole, or at least those over 50 or so) are suffering from some form of PTSD, as well as Stockholm syndrome or trauma bonding. It would explain their passivity and sense of dis-empowerment over the past 35 years, going along placidly with whatever happened, be it the destruction of the middle class, the impingement on our civil liberties post-9/11, etc. They became great consumers and rarely questioned whether things actually needed to be the way they were. It’s as if they went into a deep sleep sometime during the 1970s and have been sleepwalking ever since. Those of us Boomers who did not completely fall asleep were marginalized and found it hard to get traction to push back.
So I look at what’s happening now, and I keep thinking, please, Millennials, do not respond the way we Boomers did. You are very different from the Boomers, the times are different, and the requirements of the time are different. I believe that the course of human evolution – as well as the well-being of our planet – are requiring that we change radically. There is a paradigm shift in process, and we are all a part of it. You are a vital part of it. You are doing it.” –KittyJ
“At 68, I can reflect on the actions of my generation both enthusiastically and sadly. (These are my own thoughts, as others undoubtedly experienced it differently). No matter the honour of our intentions for positive change, no matter how loud, bold, determined, imo, we were not as organized for the long haul, did not have the technology available today for connecting, were so outraged, that love got sidelined…somewhere, somehow the energy fizzled. We found ourselves caught in an everyday life that had it’s own demands and as KittyJ states, we stopped questioning. Questions about why a Government was choosing to destroy lives rather than support them; questions of why separation still continued; questions of control, rights, and why ‘difference’ was not acceptable, why House Representatives never seemed to represent.. Ultimately for some, it came down to feelings of disempowerment that nothing, nothing was ever going to change and even if there was a chance there was no energy/power left to change it. We became asleep at the wheel. The outrage continued to eat at us from the inside, antacids became a remedy.
No matter the gross heaviness of a 14-year Vietnam War, JFK, Kent state, Watergate, zero rights for Indigenous peoples, people of colour, cripes, just citizen rights period, steps were taken and well, here we are in a revolution with more insight/tools/accessibility; a generation that is ‘thinking’ differently, has history to consider (what worked/what did not), and if I may, has a spiritual component I personally feel was lacking in my generation.” –Lyd
“Fact-check, is violence completely unhelpful? Some would point to the armed struggle in India that provided the space for Gandhi’s non-violent movement to succeed in getting some of its demands met – i.e. where it not for a more radical movement, the one led by Gandhi would not have been received as well by the authorities. Perhaps the same in the US with the armed Black power and American Indian movements?
Are we better organized? From my experience (of the more recent past; not having experienced 60s-era activism) I think a better term might be ‘connected’ rather than ‘organized’ … perhaps using things like ‘Nation Builder’ and other online tools, some groups are better organized, but I also think back to what must have been many groups that had much more in person discussions to work out their plans, strategy, tactics, vision, whereas I’m not sure that all the onlinedness of our present situation is really about being organized (?) perhaps it is but I think that, at least in some ways, it is accurate to say we are much more connected with each other.” –Greg Macdougall
These comments are incredibly insightful and much longer than what is quoted here! Please visit the article to view them in their entirety. I have one thought I’d like to share in response to Greg’s question of “is violence completely unhelpful?” Kelli Love, one of the unofficial leaders of the UpToUs group, spoke several times about her mother-in-law who was a Black Panther in the 1960s and advises Kelli’s activism closely. Her experience with violence in her youth catalyzed her strong denouncement of it now. Perhaps the violence of the past was necessary – no one can know the course history would have taken had it been completely avoided by all activists – but this group would tell you that no matter what happened previously, destruction in any form is counter-productive to the current cause.
From the same article, but a totally different topic:
“I’m loving these, Amy. Thanks for sharing, thanks for moving your body. Also – a republic services banner!? Happy to see some awareness around the issue moved through your group.
The community near the landfill posts their meetings on YouTube and back in October, when schools sent home nebulous emergency evacuation plans, people finally came to the meetings demanding answers from public officials. In an astonishing moment of audience Q&A, a woman in attendance from Chernobyl spoke: her comment is worth hearing. Her truth, piercing. To me, she resonates as a voice of wisdom on the general climate we’re facing at this moment in history, though she speaks specifically to radioactive waste concerns. Maybe it’s because this issue is personal for me, but through her story I hear a call to greater political action from someone that’s lived through an ugly reality…degrees of vulnerability are not so wide.” –Sally
Sally, we had some AMAZING West Lake activists who joined us in Missouri. They staged a “die-in” in Philly – you can see footage of it here. I had never heard of this issue before and I think a LOT of awareness was definitely generated. There is info on the link above for anyone who wants to take more action.
“I am very concerned that dissident actions at the DNC could lead us straight to Trump. Unfortunately, politics has its own ways, and when I was young I didn’t understand them. I supported idealistic platforms and so did many, without compromise, and Nixon won, despite, or because of our efforts. Divide and conquer is an old adage that holds very true. The calls for unity at the convention are wise, but unfortunately, so many protestors are terribly naive and won’t listen. I worry that the ironic end to all this good intention will be to ease the election of a right wing dictator. I hope that someone with a large audience and influence will make this parallel clear to the mass of Bernie supporters. I voted for him in the primary, yes, I’m sad, but we must face reality and know soberly that puppets and duct tape will not rule the day. The Republicans understand that pulling together wins, and when they succeed it’s because they decide to unite.” –Barbara
Barbara, agreed, though I think the responsibility for uniting the party lies with the party establishment, who are failing miserably at communicating with the Bernie supporters. I went to a meeting yesterday of national delegates from Colorado who represented Bernie at the convention, and their stories of the way they were treated by the Dem powers that be INSIDE the convention are pretty shocking. These are not young, naïve activists, but people who have been delegates at previous national conventions and who have been involved with the Democratic Party for years or decades. If they came home from the convention feeling respected and acknowledged, they could be very influential in convincing others to unite — but instead they are meeting their communities feeling frustrated and condescended to.
Bernie Sanders wrote an op-ed in the LA Times on August 5 that also attempts to convince his followers to unite with the Dems, but it feels flat and unconvincing to me. I keep waiting for him to speak directly to the fact that he earned the trust of so many supporters during the primary process and that that trust ought to translate into them following his lead. I am not sure what to make of the fact that he hasn’t. What does seem certain is that these people are determined to continue the revolution with or without the leadership of Senator Sanders. We’ll see how it goes.
Huge gratitude to everyone who has taken the time to write – and to read these comments! I look forward to more discourse and to learning from all of you in the future.