No Better Place Than Here. No Better Time Than Now.
I know I speak for many organizers when I say that, mixed with my feelings of pride and joy for the Egyptian youth who brought about Mubarak’s resignation today is a strong vein of...dare I say it? Jealousy.
I heard the big news from Egypt today when I was on a conference call with several leaders from different youth organizations, discussing our shared strategy on Jobs and the Economy. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be on a conference call discussing our organizational capacity. I wanted to be out in the streets. I felt like I was 13 again, blasting Rage Against the Machine and reading ridiculous anarchist blogs, itching to make something change, damnit, change.
Our most visceral desire as organizers is the rush that the youth of Egypt are feeling today: standing strong with your people in a massive crowd, knowing that the world will never be the same because of something you did.
A lot of us got that rush on the night Obama was elected, though it feels like a distant memory now. And our world did change that night. But we knew - as the youth of Egypt must surely know today - that we weren’t going to wake up in the morning to a bright utopian democracy. “There’s a lot more work to do!” we told each other cheerfully on the morning of November 5th, 2008.
We know that for every shining moment of perfection, there are hours upon hours of sitting around in conference rooms, bickering and creating charts and spreadsheets and wondering why the hell all these good people can’t just make things happen together. We experience failure after failure, but we know that when the time is ripe for change, all our work will come together in one shining moment and we’ll know that we were the ones who did it.
Sadly, the youth movement in America is acting as if our moment is past. We elected Obama and felt the world changing - we got the rush! But we’ve lost our sense of urgency around the issues we really care about, because they never seem to change. The White House is our White House now, and they still aren’t prioritizing the poverty and violence eroding our communities. They still don’t care about what we care about.
But because it is our White House we’ve gone soft. They’ll meet with us now, so we go to meetings. We forget that our power doesn’t come from the politicians at the White House, and it never, ever will, no matter who we elect. No matter how sympathetic the White House is to our issues, if they don’t get the sense that we will not go away, that it is easier for them to listen to us than to ignore us because we have the people and the people demand change, they’re going to enjoy the meeting, pat us on the back and head out to dinner.
30 years is a long time for nothing to change. The young people of Egypt weren’t waiting around for the right moment; they built and they worked so that when Change made it around the corner, they'd be ready and able to act.
I’m not going to ditch my conference calls and run out into the streets today. But I’m listening to that Rage Against the Machine song I blasted so often when I was an angsty 13-year-old, and I present the same challenge that it does:
It has to start somewhere.
It has to start sometime.
What better place than here?
What better time than now?