Ken Ward is the guy we imagine we all would be in the face of great ethical and physical crises.
He would have been the Quaker ushering fleeing slaves into his basement within hearing distance of the hounds that tracked them.
He would have been the German neighbor with a Jewish family huddling in his attic while the Gestapo went door-to-door with warrants for their arrest.
He would have been the man who put himself physically in the way of cops, ships, trains, and cars while his neighbors watched the world literally burn around them in apathy.
Oh wait, he IS that.
He came to talk to my class tonight, after we watched his movie. I wasn’t planning to stay, after the film. It wasn’t required. I was bribed to go in the first place to make up for spotty attendance in a class that counts attendance in the grade.
Why does my attendance matter? Why do I still, after all this time, even care about arbitrary points? It’s not like my GPA matters, this go-around. But I do, so I went.
I stayed and waited to talk to Ward and his partner, Laura, after the movie because during it I had an existential flash and nearly cried.
What do you do, when the world is facing catastrophic problems that nobody is even trying to solve in a way that addresses the scope of the challenge? What do I do, when the world is ending? Certainly the world humans evolved in, anyway.
A friend recently made the distinction between “hopeless” and “futile” to me in the context of political protest. Such action might be pointless, but not futile, was his argument. I think Ward would agree with him. Ward does futile things, delaying actions, temporary stopping measures, not because he thinks his actions will raise the political or social will to the point of acting against the crises of our age, but because he wants to be able to look his son in the eye and say that he did everything he could to leave that boy a world worth inheriting.
He acts even though he knows that inheritance is already well past spent.
Thus far I’ve done fuck all except unfuck my personal life over the last couple of years. I’d like to think I’ve reached out and taken the oxygen airbag down from the overhead compartment and started breathing through it. I’d like to think that I’ve calmed myself down for long enough that I can now turn to the hyperventilating passenger next to me and be something more helpful than a wildly flailing sack of screaming pink appendages while the plane drops 40,000 feet into the ocean.
I don’t know what I say to the person in the seat next to me, now that I’ve regained the ability to focus on a crises outside of my own two-foot bubble.
I’m not emotionally or mentally equipped to get myself arrested in order to write the modern equivalent of letters from Birmingham Jail, logistically practical as that option is (the only thing dependent on me is a dog). I’d be a liability to a direct action campaign—at least in my current incarnation. And really, anything less doesn’t hold a lot of value for me. Standing on street corners with signs? Marching? We all drove to get here. Hypocrites, the lot of us.
Hopeless, not futile. Right.
But saying nothing and doing nothing isn’t exactly great for my mental health, either—I’ve been lying on an electric floor too long without making any effort to get up.
What do you do?