Here's an experiment to try next time you're relaxing on the couch channel-surfing. Count the number of problems in the world that get tossed about on the talking-head shows, the primetime news or even during an interruption of some 'reality' show. There's the crisis in Libya, what's going wrong with the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, how many soldiers (never how many civilians) died this week, how our schoolkids are getting dumber by the minute.
Now count how many solutions are offered. Afterall, it's a mad, mad world out there and surely the omniscient television must have some notion of what we can do about it. You bet! Buy a Toyota! No? How about an i-phone? And when all else fails, there is no problem in the world that can't be addressed with a nice, juicy Big-Mac.
If it's true that here in one of the greatest cities in one of the greatest countries in the world all we can do is argue, bicker, buy stuff and vote for the lesser of two evils every couple of years then this is sadder news than anything coming out of Rwanda. And that is why I started this blog, Third Coast/Third World, because evidence to the contrary is in such extremely short supply.
My People, At Last
How did I get started with this whole activism thing? Last summer, I was working a temporary gig with the Census office (thanks Mr. President!) and as that term was coming to an end I made up my mind to do some volunteer work for awhile. For the first time in my life it seemed I would have a little bit of time and a little bit of money for the necessities simultaneously and it seemed an appropriate outlet for a chronically opinionated C-Span/NPR junkie like myself. The idea of working with Amnesty International specifically came via a friend at the office who said he was starting a local group, and invited me to the next monthly meeting. He happened to catch me at the exact right time. So it was serendipity as much as anything, or as ole' Bogie might have put it, "it seems destiny has taken a hand".
Then in October, I headed up to Detroit for Amnesty's Midwest Regional Conference. The nice thing about hanging out with a few hundred people who are committed to the idea that every person should be recognized as innately valuable is that they don't sweat the labels. A few hundred people: all of different ethnicities, religions, races working together to make some kind of stand against abuses of power in the world - and not one of them seemed to care what brand of shoes I wore or when the next little buzzing gadget came out. The part of my brain that had been maniacally trained by television producers and ad executives to judge and categorize people by their clothes and hairstyles grew eerily silent, and then faded away completely. It kind of felt like sanity.
There were panel discussions, break-out sessions, a banquet – all the stuff that usually accompanies any weekend conference and they were lovely. But what struck me most was the people I met there. I met a woman who spoke out against the horrific conditions for women in Mexican border towns and wound up moving to Albany Park with her son after being hounded by the Mexican authorities...A man seeking justice for the victim of a racially motivated death penalty case in St. Louis….a Chicago lawyer almost single-handedly fighting the Justice Dept., working the uphill cases of Guantanamo detainees. So I thought to myself: "These people are heroes damn it, so why don't more people know what they're doing?"
A Culture of Human Dignity
I suppose this blog, more than anything else is meant to present the evidence that individuals can (and do) make a difference, that people really do care about each other even in a town as frenetic as Chicago, and that a life or a society that takes as its starting point respect for basic human dignity should not be dismissed as the pie in the sky, LSD enhanced illusion of burnouts and malcontents. I'd like to introduce Chicago to the people that specialize in removing the wool from our eyes, and the barcodes from our asses - your friends and neighbors who are working for a better world everyday, right in your hometown.
And yeah, they could use a hand if you're not too busy.