kitchen table

the least glamorous stuff
October 12, 2006, 1:48 pm
Filed under: Activism, Growing Up

The real revolution is always concerned with the least glamorous stuff.
Alice Walker, “The Unglamorous but Worthwhile Duties of the Black Revolutionary Artist.”

This is what I told myself yesterday as I sat in a dark room with drafty windows, helping Seniors fill out their STAR applications. So many of them told me that if they didn’t get this tax exemption they wouldn’t be able to live, literally. One lady has 27 prescriptions for which she has to pay. One army veteran who didn’t qualify for the program and wore a peace sign on a chain around his neck, told me that by the time he did reach the qualifying age–65–he’d probably be dead.

Last monday I saw The U.S. vs. John Lennon, a film documenting the United States’ campaign to get Lennon out of the country and out of the spotlight. It was a great film, very inspiring and it spoke to my younger brother’s rock and roll sensibilities. What John and Yoko were doing was incredibly glamorous, the epitomy of glamor, but one could argue they had little choice given their intense popularity. They used their celebrity in a responsible way, to bring attention to injustice.

My point of mentioning this film is that it caused in me a small riot. Why aren’t I out there being loud and holding bed-ins and writing anti-war songs? In short, I was frustrated with myself for not being as big and glamorous as Lennon. These small, repeated acts of resistance–like helping Seniors fill out their STAR applications, or talking a mother through the process of receiving food stamps, or volunteering a Saturday to clean out the PUSH house–sometimes don’t feel like enough, especially when you lose sight of this work as part of a larger movement. And so when I see movies like the U.S. vs. John Lennon, I sometimes forget momentarily that John Lennon’s activism stemmed from years of work by the Student movement which stemmed for years of work by the Civil Rights movement. And that the real revolution happened at someone’s doorstep in Mississippi, and that there were no cameras present. Just like yesterday, in that small dark room with the drafty windows.

I take from this self-indulgent riot an indication that I need to check in with myself again, that I need to remind myself that helping someone help themselves is a revolutionary act. In the same essay as quoted above, Alice Walker writes that teaching a black elder to read is a revolutionary act, as is writing from time to time, as is kindness and love. I don’t intend to sound hokey or naive, I intend to sound sincere and responsible.

The more distant we perceive ourselves to be from movements concerned with justice, the more paralyzed we become. I always try to bring it down to a local level, until I’m talking about you and me and our shit right here. If we can’t get that shit straight, we’re never going to realize justice on a large scale.

Revolutionary work is not glamorous work and I strive to maintain a healthy level of suspicion at anything that makes me feel glamorous, in the slightest. It’s so easy to lose one’s head and that’s about the least helpful thing I can do, losing my head.


1 Comment so far
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What John and Yoko were doing was incredibly glamorous, the epitomy of glamor, but one could argue they had little choice given their intense popularity.

Exactly. And I like that Alice Walker quote. And you don’t sound hokey and naive at all. I feel so unhelpful reducing this comment to: I like this entry a lot but I do. It’s great.

Comment by courtney

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