I had that phrase come to mind this morning as I was walking back to my house with the morning newspaper. Not sure where it came from, other than, as I’d been pondering what I was going to write for this column over the last few days, I was looking for a synthesis to spring off from. With so many troubling things going on in the world, the day before I had come up with a list of things that could be addressed. The re-escalation of war in Iraq and Syria, the desperate horror of Ebola in Africa and the fears of its spread, climate issues both in actuality and in the anti-scientific resistance to its acceptance, our nation’s broken electoral system which is ruled by corporate money, the worsening struggles of working people to earn enough to live on and the crisis of the poor who can’t find work, the healthcare system designed to serve the insurance industry, etc., etc. It was paralyzing me.
So perhaps out of that arose the words Practical Radicalism. The latter word means in this case attempting to see and understand the root of the problems we face in the world. This hopefully involves seeing through the rhetoric and spin with which we receive our news of the world and understanding better the under-lying causes, motivations and belief systems which drive those events. The Practical refers to response one takes to all this information and how we live our lives and steer our actions and priorities. Understanding we have but one life to live, and in that life we have circumstances we inherit and commitments we make; how much of that time we devote to things beyond our immediate life needs, i.e., the problems in greater society and the world, is a decision we all make. Martyrdom and burn-out suck, how do we find a balance?
Is it worthwhile to devote time to knowing what’s going on in the world? There are plenty of people who pay no attention to the news. They just live within the paradigm of meaning they chose, or just fell into. Me? I’m a news junkie, and I have this fascination/addiction with knowing stuff, of understanding historical significance and current events, of looking for the deeper roots of events in the world. I have been fortunate in many ways in my life, but that I have been able to be around the right people, and in the right city, to let me be a co-founder of both this publication (in October 1986) and the Civic Media Center (in October 1993) has hugely enriched me. It has provided me a practical outlet for my information addiction. Is it worthwhile to do? Without community support neither of these endeavors would exist, and that they are supported is validation. (And please keep sending in your validations, i.e., renewals. It is the life blood of each separate entity.)
I’ve come to feel that the most important, practical thing I can do with my brand of radicalism is build awareness of issues in the world, empower people with access to information and ideas for making positive social change, and create a sense of community and commitment toward making, in whatever way somebody chooses, the world a better place. From volunteers with the Home Van to organizers that got the City of Gainesville to stop buying mountaintop removal coal, from labor organizers who have achieved a wage-theft ordinance to the new campaign for a living wage, the organizing for LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom, the environmental activists and neighborhood preservationists; our votes and our actions have the most power locally. Be Radical. Be Practical. We won’t stop the war machine or rapacious capitalism from our Gainesville chairs, but we can do a lot and send ripples of change outward. Carry on. D