by Michael DeLang
"Sometimes the good Lord accepts His own perfection and closes His eyes and goes ahead and takes His own good time and He makes Himself a man. Yes, and sometimes that man gets hold of the idea of what he's supposed to do in this world and he gets an idea of what it is possible for him to do, and that man lets that idea guide him as he grows and struggles and stumbles and sorrows until finally he comes into his own God-given shape and achieves his own individual and lonely place in this world. It don't happen often, oh no; but when it does, then even the stones will cry out in witness to his vision and the hills and towers shall echo his words and deeds and his example will live in the hearts of men forever."
—Ralph Ellison (1914-1994)
(Swans - November 16, 2009) A lot of people believed that the individual described in this fervent prophecy of Ellison's might recently have appeared on the scene in the guise of a former community organizer by the name of Barack Obama. A lot of good people needed change and hope so desperately that they were able to set aside their common sense and any act of analytical reasoning, as well as their ability to intelligently process the information gathered by the powers of their own observations. Or maybe they were just so eager to be led out of the wilderness by someone, anyone... that in their reverent canonization of this particular politician, they just filtered out any data that contradicted or gave lie to the role their desperation had chosen for him. Although the facts of the corporate sources of his campaign funding were openly documented and public information, his devoted supporters refused to make the connection between their hoped-for savior's prominent standing within a thoroughly corrupted political system and the true interests he was there to serve. A lot of good people fell into the trap of accepting the Obama campaign's deliberately vague rhetoric of hope and change, then plugging in their own commendable visions of what needed to be done to right the nation, and finally projecting those visions onto their exalted candidate and deluding themselves into believing that he had publicly committed his proposed administration to those ends, ignoring the fact that he never really promised anything other that what he has delivered, which is business as usual. And now, a lot of good people are feeling disappointed and betrayed.
The prevailing political system in America has become an extension of the business community and exists to serve their interests and profits. The fact that a fair number of us are fortunate enough to be in a position to enjoy some small portion of the benefits of the business community's interests and profits, we should bear in mind, does not make for a working democracy. The existing corporate political structure is a powerful, deeply entrenched closed system that, by any realistic assessment, will remain immune to reform forever. To search for a leader, or create one in our collective imagination, who will emerge from this system to deliver us from the misery and poverty it inflicts on a large portion of our population is a foolish waste of time, energy, and resources. If we want to create better living conditions for ourselves and our neighbors, we need to stop looking for leaders to rescue us. And we need to stop trying to work within a system that has purposefully created the economic imbalance that has resulted in the suffering we hope to alleviate.
Perhaps a more productive interpretation of Ellison's words is one that imagines that the individual that he's speaking about is you, or me. Maybe his intent is to challenge us to recognize and acknowledge the power that lies within each of us to actuate change in our lives and bring hope to a few of the lives of those around us. Most every community of size has a rescue mission or homeless shelter that could use some volunteer time or a few more bucks to put toward operating expenses. Even the tiny, remote community I recently moved into has an active food pantry program for the benefit of those who are just struggling to survive. There are a good number of national programs that are doing good work in communities, and can use whatever help they can get. Big Brothers and Sisters and Habitat For Humanity come to mind, but there are many others, as well.
So, if you supported and voted for Barack Obama, chances are you possess the compassion and understanding to see the systemic tide of economic injustices, and the despair they bring, pushing the American Dream farther and farther out of reach of a growing segment of the population. You know, in your heart, that we must not give up on the notion of hope or the prospect of change. But, don't look for it to come from the System. Better to re-evaluate your own role within the community, and help to provide it yourself.
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