Taking a Minute (or a Month)

It’s been a tough month.

I tore my miniscus, had knee surgery, and watched daytime TV for three weeks straight. (Since when has Drew Carey hosted Price is Right?? For me, it’s Barker or Bust.)

My man Russ Feingold lost his Senate seat in Wisconsin to a Tea Party millionaire. This dude Ron Johnson is the most right-wing senator from my old Badger State since a guy named McCarthy.

The judge in L.A. let Johannes Mehserle off with less than a year of a prison sentence. Oscar Grant’s family walked out of the courthouse in tears. Three days later, Oakland cops killed another unarmed black man, Derrick Jones, in the back.

America is in a dark place. Winter is coming. The days are getting shorter, the mood is tense. The air is thick with anger and smog, and I can’t find my asthma inhaler.

But through it all, I continue to breathe. In, out. In, out.

My grandma, Dorothy Healey, always used to tell me, “You have to have pessimism of the mind, optimism of the spirit.” She was quoting the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who wrote those words from a jail cell. A socialist leader herself, Grandma saw the inside of a cell on more than occasion, but she never lost her faith in humanity.

I’m sure there were moments she had extreme doubt, like when she was tried before the Supreme Court (three times), but she always knew her role in the struggle was just that….a struggle. (Oh, and she won at the Supreme Court all three times.)

Grandma said activists should have two essential qualities: patience and a sense of humor. I think I’ve got the latter, but I’m still trying to work on the former. This recent knee injury, which will keep me off the soccer field till the spring, has definitely tested my patience.

Watching the world go by, while I try to keep writing and organizing from my apartment, has been harder than I expected. So much of my identity is wrapped into being out there in the world, building, teaching, listening, learning…I’ve been forced to slow down and appreciate the things I have. Realizing the things I can do, the things I can’t. Asking for help. Saying no to gigs and projects. Most important, taking a step back and seeing where I am in my life, what I want to do in the context of 2010. And what I want to see in 2050.

The freedom struggle is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to train for the long run — do our political stretches, our activist warm-ups, be like Rocky running up all those steps in Philly. And when Apollo beats us in the first movie, we have to get back up and train harder, so that we can win in Rocky II.

Because yes, we can win. Even in this tough time, we have won some real victories:

My friends at the amazing Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who have struggled for years to improve the near-slavery conditions of Florida farmworkers, recently won the biggest of its campaigns against the agribusiness and fast food industry.

Here in the Bay, the community coalition EBASE just won a 4-year campaign against the Woodfin Hotel in Emeryville,  with the hotel’s immigrant workers defending their rights and the city’s living wage law.

Even closer to home, Jean Quan staged an upset bid against the corporate candidate Don Perata to become the new mayor of Oakland. While not the ideal candidate I would have wanted for the Town, Quan got my vote because she was always out there with the community — at immigration rallies in Fruitvale, at the Oscar Grant demonstrations downtown.

Actually, Quan got my 2nd-choice vote, which ended up counting. More than a victory for Quan, the election was a victory for Instant Runoff Voting  — where voters could choose their top 3 choices, and votes being consolidated until someone got 51%. Meaning, I was able to vote my conscience for my first choice, with the Green Party candidate, and then when he got eliminated, my “practical vote” for the liberal Democrat Quan came into play and was successful in helping push over the top against the corporate Democrat Perata. Definitely reminded me why electoral reform needs to be at the top of any progressive agenda.

All that to say, change is possible. Even in these times of darkness, we have our glow sticks. The path is still there — let’s light the way.

Let’s take a minute to realize what we already have. Unexpectedly, I was forced (or blessed) to take a month. Now it’s time to start stretching again.

And with that…here’s K’Naan.