By Joseph Ross
Poet and friend, Melissa Tuckey closes out our series on Hope. Melissa’s poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies. Her chapbook Rope As Witness is awesome. She lives with her husband and the best dog in America in Ithaca, New York.
THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING
I once heard Cornell West speak about hope. He said hope was not to be confused with optimism, and he defined optimism as something like the naïve version of hope, as in, “the Iraqis will welcome us with open arms (2003),” or “we can give tax breaks to the rich and the money will trickle down to the rest of us.” West related hope to the blues: it’s what keeps you going through the dark times. Hope is essential for social change, whereas optimism is naïve and dangerous. In the midst of the Bush administration, thinking about hope this way helped me realize that disappointment does not destroy hope, even though hope gets thin at times and we need one another to keep it going.
During the Bush/ Cheney regime, I rediscovered Gil Scott Heron’s 1980’s album/CD, “Winter in America” and played it over and over again. The song “Winter in America” matched my despair and the “revolution will not be televised” reminded me to turn off the TV. There is one song on the album that kept my hope stoked and made me want to dance in the street. The song Johannesburg—“Brother, sister, woman have you heard? from Johannesburg?” Looking back on history, it’s inspiring to remember that it was on the heels of the Reagan years that South Africans overturned apartheid. It may have been Winter in America, but the sun was still shining. Thinking back on that time, it was grassroots action both in South Africa and around the world that brought about change. No one gave it to anyone. A well-organized movement brought it about.
I admit I am among the disappointed, 30 years after Reagan, it’s still winter in America. We continue to export jobs and weapons and torture. The banks have been bailed out, but help is slow to arrive for homeowners. 700 billion dollars were gifted in tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans at a time when the President’s debt commission is recommending deep cuts in programs that serve the rest of us. The dream act was deferred. Hate television is polluting our conversations. Still there is reason to hope.
In the election of 2008, hope ran against cynicism and fear and hope won. President Obama won the election by running a campaign that pledged itself to hope and change and a record number of voters responded coming together across class, and race, and age to do what seemed impossible. Together we made history. We did so against despair, deeply entrenched racism, a sense of powerlessness. We elected a man who promised change, health care, an end to unjust wars, and more. We voted with hope that our children’s lives would be better than our own.
As a progressive, I find myself critical of many of the choices made by this administration and its centrist conservative politics, and I’m not going to pretend to find these policies inspiring, but I still feel hope when I remember election night in Washington, DC—the honking, hollering, celebrating that was “YES WE DID.” I still feel hope when I remember Aretha Franklin’s hat. My hope is in the millions of people who came out to vote to expand the promise of what it is to be American. The future of this country belongs to us.
When the cynicism returns, when I hear what’s-her-name taunt “how’s that hopey-changey thing working out?” I just smile and say fine, then I put on my headphones…