Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hillary, Revolution, and the Romantic Artist

There was an interesting article on the front page of the Times today about Hillary Clinton in 1968– I doubt it would have the same resonance for people of other generations than mine. She arrived at Wellesley a Goldwater Republican, did a senior thesis on Saul Alinsky, who she thought was one of the few radicals who was actually effective, worked on both democratic presidential campaign and for a republican in Washington (Melvin Laird, future defense secretary). This latter was as an intern (I wonder if Mel ever made a pass at her...).

But she realized pretty quickly that she wasn't a Republican. She visited from home the Demo convention in Chicago and smelled the tear gas. Was Wellesley student body president, organized a strike and attended some protests, but definitely wanted to work within the system.

She has been quoted saying various things about working within the system, about making change from within, compromise, etc. that remind me of my friend David Hardesty, outgoing president of West Virginia University-- but also of someone much younger, Joel’s Sarah, who is looking to do good concretely in the field of health care policy.

But the point for me is that the discussion is my generation's discussion--I've even had it with David-- doe we work from within, or work from outside? These ten years of effort I've put in with the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race have been as close as I’ve ever been to working as an insider. I've never made the transition fully, though, always envying the ones who still put great effort into mass protests, still belong to small left wing revolutionary parties that view everything as best they can through the lens of the oppressed.

It is of interest to me that the people who engaged in the conversation about where to work but assume that working for change is the real thing, those people really are in power now, although we’re beginning to retire.

I talked with Carol, the Chair of the SO/Ma CCR last night after our Schools Committee meeting about a piece we've been working on for the local paper, and she commented on how it’s gotten easier to write these pieces representing the ideas of the group, and it occurred to me how much satisfaction I’ve taken from drafting them. It is a special privilege and pleasure to write things that express (and of course influence) the thinking of more than just me. This is definitely not the recommended stance for a Romantic Artist. We're supposed to suffer in loneliness and then become famous.

But what if these pieces I've written for the Coalition about integration in the 21st century turn out to be the most powerful things I ever write? That makes me uncomfortable at best, but of course I won't really know in my lifetime. And I never really bought into the myth of the Romantic Artist. It is a narrative that has come to the end of its usefulness, and probably never applied to women even in the 19th century. What I do believe, most deeply, is that my friend Shelley's full time revolutionary partner Teresa and probably even Hillary are in some way on the same side. I know Teresa wouldn't stand that for a moment, and probably not Hillary either. But my deepest world view, when it isn't simply dark and despairing, has none of us knowing the truth, and all of us slogging through the mire with many missteps, but more of us that you might think slogging in a progressive direction.

That sounds incredibly fuzzy headed, vague, and optimistic if not mystical, but that's because I tried to say it directly instead of slant...

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