Hope in the Dark

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If you haven’t figured out by now that I loved Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark then, well, there is no hope for you! *snerk* Seriously though, this book was a life raft for me after the election. A huge thank you to Haymarket Books for making free digital copies available! Originally published in 2004, Solnit added a new last chapter in 2014 and earlier this year she added a new introduction.

The purpose of the book in 2004 (and now) is not to give the reader hope and pretend everything will be ok. Instead, what Solnit does is argue that hope is not some nebulous and inconsequential thing. Nor is real hope something that belongs to people who do nothing but sit on the couch, wringing their hands, “hoping” someone will do something. Hope is instead a way of life. Hope requires action and is fed by action. In doing we start to see that our actions make a difference and we begin to connect with others who are also doing, become part of a community working together towards something that is bigger than our individual selves.

The motivation behind the book, however, comes from Solnit’s personal activist experience. She has observed that those involved in working for change often get discouraged or burnt out because they go in with the ideal end result “We’re going to end X” and when, after sometimes years of hard work, X is not achieved but they are offered “Y” instead, something smaller, something closer to the goal but not the goal itself, it is treated as a failure. But, Solnit argues, this is the wrong way to look at it. Real honest to goodness and permanent change takes a long time and sometimes it doesn’t even happen in a lifetime. Getting “Y” instead of “X” is not a failure, it is a victory, a step in the right direction, and we should celebrate that victory.

At the core of the book are stories about movements and actions and the victories large and small they achieved. It is a reminder of what has been done and what still needs to be done. It also provides a context and shows that just because the final goal may not yet be reached, our continued action need not begin from scratch. We can build on what has already been done, no need to reinvent the wheel.

One of the things Solnit talks about that I really liked is that despair is for lazy people. Despair is lazy because it means you have capitulated. You’ve decided nothing can be done so you aren’t even going to bother trying. Despair is a failure of the imagination; it is for people who can’t imagine how things might be different. It is for people who don’t want to do the hard work of imagining a better story. As a reader, this struck me hardest. I mean, I read, I have a great imagination or I like to think so. If I begin to despair then it means that I either a) don’t have a good imagination or b) I am too lazy to put it to good use. Both of those make me cringe. No more despair! Sure, it is fine to be sad or disappointed but I refuse to concede, to give in, give up, not try. That’s what those in power want. I will not comply.

I will definitely be reading this book again. And again. And again. It is full of goodness and courage and hope. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of person I would like to be and the kind of life I want to live.

Hope in the Dark. Read it.