Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit. Haymarket Books, 2016. With new forward and afterward. First published 2004.
A wise call to citizen political activism based on hope of changing the future by being flexible in the present and remembering our past successes.
Rebecca Solnit is a California writer and activist who has published a number of books related to Progressive causes. She is also a contributor to Harpers. Hope in the Dark was originally written in 2004 as George W. Bush was initiating the war in Iraq. Added chapters deal with the response to 9/11 and climate change. The new forward addresses the political situation we find ourselves in today. While references indicate these particular crises, Solnit’s words have an urgency that transcends them making her book significant as we seek to survive a Trump presidency.
The kind of hope that Solnit advocates is not purely personal or private. It demands a public response that is essential if we seek to challenge repressive political power. Hope is about realizing that the status quo is not inevitable. Because we know that change has occurred before we can hope to bring about change now. For Solnit, hope is not about ignoring real problems or assuming they can be quickly and easily fixed. Hope is the knowledge that situations can be changed and that doors can be opened to unimaginable alternatives. Hope is being willing to stand up to oppression even when we are unsure what our bravery can achieve. Rather than providing a static alternative, hope allows us to be comfortable with differences. Hope is being in the struggle for the long-term and realizing that perhaps all we can do is plant seeds for future change.
One source of hope, for Solnit, is to remember that of past movements have led to positive change. She asks us to remember and honor what people acting outside of government have achieved. As she notes, the media is slow to acknowledge and cherish the victories that civil action has won. We ourselves tend to forget what has been gained, instead of commemorating it in our stories. Solnit devotes large portions of her book to telling about the victories of the past couple of decades. Although I have kept reasonably informed over those years, I was surprised at how many of those stories I had forgot or never heard. I also appreciated her comments about how we choose to remain cynical and frozen because we can act worldly and safe.
At times, I wished this book had been better written. It could have been more powerful with fewer quotations and less repetition. But, despite its flaws, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. For many of us, the Trump election has been numbing. We are left wanting to resist a multitude of his actions, but feel stymied. We need a wise and perceptive voice like Solnit’s to help us regain a sense of empowerment today more than ever.