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  • Writer's pictureSara Sharpe

Dear Activists, Politicians and News Pundits

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Dear Friend,

What with all this letter writing, it strikes me that there are other letters I want to write. I want to write a letter to my fellow activists, for instance. I’d also like to write one to my political representatives (and yours) and to news pundits in general - all in a good-faith effort to insist on alternatives to hate-filled rhetoric that taints our discourse, degrades our relationships, and radically slows down our ability to bring about much-needed change. Can I run some sample letters by you? I’ll warn you that the second one (the one to politicians and pundits) is likely to sound exasperated. This is because I’m exasperated. Also, you are allowed to scold me for being insufferably preachy in this instance. Dear passionate, outspoken Activist: You sound angry. So angry. Good, and thanks. Thanks for the strength of your convictions, your care and concern, your work. Whether you're posting articles on Facebook, marching in the streets, or organizing at a grassroots level, we need your anger. More than your anger, we need your rage. Rage is welcome here, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In an unjust world, rage is holy. It is vital. We must not be afraid of it. On the other hand, we cannot be consumed by it. Our rage can and must fuel our actions, but it must be meted out in a controlled and disciplined way, else we burn out. Change does not come quickly – you know this better than anyone – so we need to find ways of sustaining our efforts. Uncontrolled rage, like fire, burns hot and quickly, destroying everything in its path and running its course. Injustice trumps a fast-burning, rage-fueled movement every time with sheer tenacity. We must be smarter than that. We must also remember that destroying everything in our path – even those individuals and institutions that bring great harm – is counterproductive in the long run and rarely effective in the short run. If we see one person harming another, we (hopefully) think of stopping instead of destroying that person. As for institutions that bring harm? We must stop them, yes. We must pick them apart, expose them, turn them inside out, and, ultimately, change them. But burning them to the ground – or even threatening to – creates so much fear, chaos, and backlash that we lose precious time in the long run. We must be smarter than that. The sort of rage that calls for wholesale destruction is counter-productive, even if it feels good in the short term - and I get that it does. (If you believe the election was stolen, for instance, you might not like what happened on January 6th, but you might understand it on some level. If you've suffered at the hands of the criminal legal system – or know someone who has – you might not have liked it when the protests turned violent in response to its failings, but you might understand why they did.) In the end, however, violence, in word or deed, is not the answer. This is not some pie-in-the-sky sentiment so much as it is cold, hard strategic thinking. Lives are at stake. We don’t have time for anything less than strategic thinking and disciplined, relentless action. The world we’ve created can be terrible, terrifying, violent, and unjust. People living on the margins are at risk. To be clear, I am not one of them, and I have friends who would argue that it’s easy for me to say we must choose our weapons carefully - that we must put down our guns and vitriol and take up our pens and stories (for instance) instead. My friends have a point. Nonetheless, gently and respectfully, I submit the following for your consideration: if your movement is deliberately nourished by hatred and violence, even if you deem both justifiable, your movement is leaking power, the very power desperately needed to end suffering. We must be smarter than that. Sara Dear elected representatives and news pundits on both sides of the divide: When it comes to my fellow citizens, I go out of my way to speak in measured tones, to listen more than I talk, to seek first to understand. Speaking truth to power, however, is a different exercise. Power is a consequential thing. You have it, you’re using it, and you need unmitigated feedback in real time. Allow me to offer up some.

News pundits: Many of you, on both sides of the divide (some of you way more than others), have given up any pretense of providing us with objective news, forcing us, instead, to dine on one sneering opinion piece after another. Honestly, it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Many of you will argue (rightly) that there are people in the country who revel in this ridiculous political theatre. It’s good entertainment. It enlivens the base, bumps up the ratings. But surely there's another way. Are you really willing to trade ratings for our democracy (imperfect though it may be)?

On second thought, don't answer that.

Politicians on both sides of the divide: These days, it pains me to say, many of you more closely resemble circus animals than trustworthy, fair-minded, grown-up people. Many of you - even those who have genuinely inspired ideas - have seemingly been trained in the art of snark, thereby relinquishing what hope you had of offering up inspiration on a large scale. For the record, snark has never and will never inspire anything other than glib satisfaction on the one hand and relentless hostility on the other. As for me, let me be clear: I don’t care that this behavior appeals to your base. I don’t care that this behavior garners attention in certain circles and makes you feel like a rock star. We don’t have time for that shit. There is a way to harness rage in the name of desperately needed change, and snark is not the way.

Your outrageous behavior has been normalized in your halls of power and your respective bubbles. And when you hit the road (during a campaign, for instance), you take your bubble with you, along with the few, the faithful. Most of us, however, don’t come to your rallies and don’t live in your bubble. Many of us sit at home, cowering in our living rooms and desperately hoping the rest of the world isn’t paying attention to the shit show that has become American politics. We live in a pluralistic society. Given that you have risen to certain heights, I will assume you understand what that means. I will assume you know what it means to live in a Democracy, in which people have wildly different ideas and ideals about how best to govern; to live. I’m also going to assume (despite evidence to the contrary) that you know better than to categorize people as GOOD or BAD. Finally, I will assume you recognize that people within a Democracy can and must coexist. Read this book of letters. Read it and remember that we are not enemies, those of us on opposite sides of the divide. Read it and remember that this (largely manufactured) division hurts us all. Read it and remember that, in a pluralistic society, compromise is not a bad word. Read it and reach for something better. Reach across the aisle, across the Divide. Be brave, for God’s sake - reach! We’ll be watching. Sara

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2 commentaires

17 juin 2023

Wise and thoughtful words - how to productively channel righteous anger and balance that with genuine dialogue is a constant struggle…


17 juin 2023

great challenge in how i respond to those around me!

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