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Where is hope?

Kamaria Porter | Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Where is hope in a world where one out of three women globally will be victimized, raped or battered in their lifetime? Where is hope in a nation where scores of people work full time – even two or three jobs – and still can not afford basic life necessities? Where is hope in world where people suffer from genocide, war and political strife, while others do nothing to stop these injustices? We are all residents of the ruins; a world where despair and fear reigns, profit and individual merit motivates and hope is scarce.

I always wonder why more students do not participate in social justice activities. It is always the same core of people, routinely replaced through the years, who work to carry the banner of justice here. Indeed, our case is not extraordinary. Throughout the human community, we find a minority of voices of dissent, hope and change. What differentiates actors from bystanders?

I am inclined to say the reason people do not participate in movements for change or justice relates less to their moral consciousness and more to their lack of belief in their power. It is not that peoples’ hearts are cold or care nothing for the plight of others. Any human in relationships with others has the ability to relate with another’s suffering and empathize.

This begs the question, “What are we waiting for?” Some may be waiting for the time when these issues have a close meaning for us. For instance, one may not feel invested in a movement until their personal interests are threatened. Others it seems are looking for the next charismatic leader with enough confidence and passion to inspire them and make success believable.

The first resistance to act embraces a skewed sense of community which separates certain people into groups – some worthy of concern and others not. The later position follows the wider social pattern of shirking responsibility for our own power. Power, not in the sense of authority, prestige, or dominance, but in the fact that everything we do creates an effect – in favor of change or the status quo. Power, the ability to act, choose and influence life, is the essence of our existence. Ultimately, the feeling of powerlessness and despair in the face of the ruins hinders action.

I find insight in the afterward of Jim Wallis’ newest book, “God’s Politics.” He reflects on a saying of a co-organizer in response to laments of missing leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. to head the charge. She would insist, “We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for.” We – in this moment, in this place – are the ones necessary to create the change we long to see in the world. As Nelson Mandela stated at his inauguration, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us … Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine …”

As we prepare for action, we need to form our understanding of the issues and the values that motivate our action. The principles, whether they are based religiously or secularly, are the foundations. For instance, in Catholic Social Teaching, one finds the principles of human dignity (everyone must be respected and treated like an expression of the divine), participation (everyone must be free to partake in the institutions of their community) and stewardship. We must be caretakers of creation and use our gifts for the common good – as guiding values for our lives. These teachings help inform our conscience on what kind of world we need to work for and which movements correspond to that effort. Thus, initiatives for living wages for workers, a moratorium on the death penalty and the protection of natural resources from all polluters would be a few in line with such principles.

The first revelation is our ability to act. The second is to realize our power is most effectively used in community with others. Indeed, change throughout history has not come from single actors, but mass communities demanding rights and justice.

As we form a community of unique people working for a better world, we model for ourselves and the world our goal. As we mend our disagreements, integrate each voice and build relationships that foster understanding and respect, we remake ourselves. In that victory, we become closer to our goal to remake the world. While despair may continually creep in and frustration with the world may depress us, that community – oriented around the power of principles – will keep us strong and committed. We find the hope through the communal struggle.

Kamaria Porter is a junior history major. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Contact her at kporter@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.