Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
By John Heid
People say to me, oh you gotta be crazy to dream in times like these.
Don’t you read the news? Don’t you know the score?
How can you dream when so many others grieve?
By way of a reply I say a fool such as I sees a dream as somewhere to begin.
—Sara Thomsen, “Somewhere To Begin”
I woke to these lyrics this past Hiroshima morning, the 75th anniversary. Covid’s in the air. Asylum’s on the rocks. Western mountains are on fire. So too, urban streets. The US-Mexico border wall is rising at warp speed. All this, and then comes Sara Thomsen’s lyrical query: “How can I dream when so many others grieve?” And yet, here I am, dreaming.
The times seem grim, grisly, inside the DC beltway and all across the country. More than a vaccine is needed for healing; more than a changing of the guard in the Oval Office for authentic transformation. We didn’t get to where we are as a nation, let alone a species, overnight. This is no time for cheap hope. Our state of affairs cannot, will not, be remedied from the center. Absolute power, by definition, never concedes willingly. If we want to survive, let alone thrive, it is time, long overdue, to listen to the voices that have been marginalized, the visionaries among us on the fringes.
Perhaps we can only hear them when our backs are up against the wall—a wall of our own creation. Tohono O’Odham poet Ophelia Zepeda writes: “Tagging is a scream at midnight audible at dawn.” Can we hear it? Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Are we able to recognize it?
Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time the eye begins to see.” Some look around and see only darkness, while others, a shaft of light. Some look at the streets and see insurrection, others, uprising. We see from where we stand, or kneel, or lie. What will rise from the ashes of the tens of thousands of acres of burned mountain forests and from our city streets? Yes, fire destroys. It also purifies and illuminates, making way for something altogether new. Be warned, status quo of patriarchy, racism, sexism, nationalism, capitalism: resurrection is threatening. The writing’s been on the wall long enough. The midnight scream is being heard—at last.
No, we won’t find a retaining wall to hold up our state of affairs crumbling under the weight of the dominant power structure.
Its safety nets have large holes. As Audre Lourde so prophetically and plainly said: “The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” Those are the tools that built it after all. They are designed to preserve it. Neither ballot nor bomb, atomic or conventional, will get us any closer to an egalitarian society. These are the master’s tools. It is only we, the people, altogether, the grassroots, who have the construction tools, let alone the vision, to build something authentically new in the shell of the old. Dorothy Day nailed it when she said we need “a revolution of heart.”
And what will this revolution look like one asks? No one person can say. A communal response is essential. Cornell West says “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Love with hands and feet. Clearly, there are no quick fixes. No bumper sticker solutions. Transformation, like evolution, is a process.
Only by listening to the long silenced voices at the margins, do I believe that I, as part of the privileged center, can begin to see a way. I imagine it involves cooperation, power-sharing, non-nuclear in family and weapon. A world turned upside down, as the Diggers said. No wonder Gandhi called such efforts “experiments in truth.” Rejecting alternatives to our current so-called way of living means ultimately… annihilation, extinction. Perhaps that is this pandemic’s most critical message. I believe together we can do it. “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one….”
—John Heid is a humanitarian aid activist in Tucson.