A few weeks back I was asked by a reporter, "Do you think you're going to make a difference?"
Then we talked about why I've been so intensely focused on trying to save the last two beautiful US Bank trees in downtown Salem (three have been cut down for no good reason; there is even less reason than that to kill the remaining trees).
I didn't get much of a chance to answer that first question, other than to say "Sure."
After spending a few hours yesterday listening to Thom Hartmann, a progressive radio talk show host and author, speak here in Salem, I'm motivated to spend some blog time pondering why us citizen activists do what we do.
Hartmann talked quite a bit about Move to Amend, an effort to amend the United States Constitution to affirm that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
Local Move to Amend folks had tables set up in the Grand Theatre lobby. They're working hard to get Oregon's state legislature to be the second, after Vermont's, to support Move to Amend.
That's a long way from passing a constitutional amendment. But praise be, from the deepest recesses of my non-religious heart, to activists who work so long, so hard, so diligently, so quixotically -- tilting at windmills that seemingly are next to impossible to attack with any hope of success.
Until that "seemingly" is shown to be false. And the windmills crumble after countless lance strikes.
Nothing is impossible for the obsessively crazed activist who refuses to stop fighting for his or her cause until the last drop of determination is drained from their being. Just look at how resistance to gay marriage is finally crumbling after so many years of apparently fruitless efforts.
Did he have any chance against those tanks? No. Did he feel that he had no choice but to do what he did? Almost surely, yes. Did he make a difference? Yes, yes, yes!
After all, I'm inspired and energized by him. So are countless others. I hope he's still alive. But if he's not, if he was killed by the Chinese authorities, he lived as we all should: bravely, whole-heartedly, standing tall for truth, liberty, and justice in the face of oppressive power.
I can give reasons for why I've spent so much time, energy, and money fighting for causes that seemingly have little chance of success. However, I don't believe citizen activism can be explained.
It is felt, not thought. Experienced, not a subject of exposition (though, yeah, as a blogger I guess I'm doing just that). Much more of an ungraspable energy than a solid analyzable entity.
I tilt at windmills, and sometimes succeed in stopping their turning, because I'm incapable of doing anything else. I bet most citizen activists feel the same. Artists make art because artistry drives them. Activists make waves because a calm sea of injustice drives them to stir things up.
Often, when I'm trying to right some unrightable wrong, I wonder whether I'd be happier spending my retired days doing something more pleasant. It doesn't take me long to realize, no, I wouldn't. Pleasantness is great, but I need more to be truly happy.
The rest of the lyrics to Impossible Dream, as familiar as they may be, express what lies at the heart of a citizen activist better than any other words I could end this post with.
It isn't success that an activist truly yearns for, but the feeling that at the end of the long day called Life, one's eyes can close in peace -- having been focused on the pursuit of what really matters, even if the quarry remained just out of reach.
It is the mission of each true knight...
His duty... nay, his privilege!
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!
This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!
And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!