Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Week Thirteen: Finding an Antidote to Hopelessness

By: Emily Campbell

Three months ago, we sat in a large Methodist Church in the center of Cape Town, transfixed by the words of Reverend Alan Storey. The insights he shared have stuck with our group throughout our time in Southern Africa and this week, his idea that we are “addicted to hope,” ran through my head again and again. Right now, I feel pretty hopeless. Every time I read a headline, I seem to lose faith in the world we live in. Terrorist attacks in Paris, civilians taken hostage at a hotel in Mali, dozens of American governors refusing to accept Syrian refugees, people denying the existence of racism on college campuses, and close to home for many of us, the shooting of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. The world didn’t give me much to be hopeful about this week.

As all of these events continue to fill my newsfeed and consume my time as I read about them. I have felt stagnant. I’ve spent the semester learning about social change, about development, racism, and resistance. And yet I couldn’t seem to find any way that what I’ve learned here could create meaningful change in a world that seems so broken.  Maybe Alan Storey was right. I am addicted to hope, and without it, I struggle to see any path to progress. 

On Tuesday, we had our final development class in which we read “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” a speech Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in April, 1967. The speech seemed incredibly relevant to our present day situation. And instead of giving me hope, the speech only seemed to further push me into the spiral of hopelessness. Why, nearly 50 years after Dr. King so poignantly warned us about “being on the wrong side of a revolution,” do we continue to make the same mistakes? King wrote, “this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges.” When I read this, I wasn’t thinking of Vietnam. I was thinking of each of the headlines I’d read that morning and asking myself why we aren’t moving forward. 

As my knowledge of South African and Namibian history has grown, I’ve learned about two countries that have made a lot of progress in only a few decades. Both countries have grown significantly since freeing themselves of apartheid rule in the early nineties. But as we’ve learned how much things have changed, we’ve also learned how little things have actually changed. Both nations exist in a state of “economic apartheid.” While racially biased laws are no longer in place, little has been done to change the economic situation of formally oppressed people. As such, I could probably replace the term “formally oppressed people” with the phrase “historically and presently oppressed people.” I want to take the title “Rainbow Nation” at face value, but my time in Southern Africa has shown me how similar Namibia, South Africa, and the United States are in their inability to truly establish racial and economic equality.  

Annie and I attempt to overcome hopelessness by working with
a coalition that seeks an end to gender-based violence.
[Designs by Annie Dierberger]
In my search to rediscover hope, I sought out local activists. Annie and I began volunteering with Women’s Solidarity Namibia, an organization that we visited for class a few weeks earlier. They’re currently preparing for 16 Days of Activism, a worldwide event that draws attention to gender-based and sexual violence. We designed promotional materials and prepared a newsletter for the organization. As I did research for their newsletter, I read statistic after statistic that told me that gender-based violence both in Southern Africa and worldwide is not dissipating, but rather growing in its prevalence. Despite the hard work of people the world over, this devastating problem continues to worsen. Reading these statistics slowly chipped away at the hope I held in a system of grassroots activism. 

And so as we sat in development, discussing Dr. King’s speech, current events, and the inevitable reality that soon we’ll be boarding a plane back to the United States, I reflected on my inabilities to see the positive in a world that seems to continually highlight the negative. But, as they have every other time I’ve dramatically claimed the world is falling apart, my classmates reminded me that this world is not hopeless. For every heartbreaking headline I read and every racist post I saw on Facebook, there was a headline about activists promoting justice and change, a classmate who had chosen to take action where they saw injustice in our world. Women’s Solidarity Namibia may not have ended gender-based violence, but through a staff of two people, they have managed to provide shelter to survivors of violence, to educate men and women alike about preventing violence, and to lobby in parliament for legal change. Small things like these began to pour some light into the darkness that had consumed my worldview. Maybe these people are clinging to the hope I seem to have lost or maybe they too feel a little hopeless, but have refused to let their hopeless justify inaction. Ultimately, I don’t think being addicted to hope is a bad thing. Without hope, we may all end up in that spiral of hopelessness and inaction in which I have felt trapped. 

We attempt to overcome hopelessness by standing with
protesters back home, even when we’re 12,000 miles away. 
I had intended to end this blog post with a hopeful and somewhat cheesy story of finding hope in a broken world. But instead, I’d like to end it with a call to action. If you’re feeling hopeless, do not succumb to the darkness in the world around you, but find hope through action, through surrounding yourself with people who truly seek to address the problems they see. March with Black Lives Matter. Write your representatives about taking in Syrian refugees. Design promotional material for an NGO about which you feel passionate. Allow yourself to occasionally wallow in hopelessness, but do not let it trap you. As Gertrude Stein once said “the artist's job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” Whatever your antidote may be, it’s time to start pursuing it.

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