Activism and cynicism

"HaymarketRiot-Harpers" by Harper's Weekly - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

The Labor Day weekend is one of those perfect long weekends when the gas prices are down and the weight of the semester hasn’t started yet. Fall isn’t quite here in Dallas and there is still that sweet optimism of success in the air. Kind of like New Year’s but, well, less final than the end of yet another year.

Which is why this time of the year might finally work out for Guatemalans who just ousted their president on charges of corruption, and are looking to overhaul governance in their country right now.

Guatemala might have better luck than Egypt or Libya, particularly because activists who worked toward getting Molina to resign had support from the United Nations’ International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which was created and has been in operation since 2006 (that’s nine years of work).

Yet, skepticism reigns high among those who have waited for this moment (The New York Times report here), because just like in real life, politics is afloat with cynicism and real change can take several decades to materialize.

When I read about the masses in the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution or even those that went to fight in WWII, I can smell the patriotism and the hope in the yellowed pages of these books.

Today, even the powers of a clever pen in a newspaper are incapable of instilling that hope and that sense of impending change in us. We see a headline telling us of a regime change in a war-ridden nation and we dismiss it knowing, even anticipating, another headline in a few months that will announce the doom of the new government or a relapse of the new regime into old ways.

We read of activists being jailed or murdered in cold blood, we write a customary enraged social media post, usually in less than 140 characters and we let ourselves get back to our cynical lives, not wanting to delve into the emotional challenges of activism.

Somehow, somewhere between the civil rights movement and the dissolution of the Cold War, we as people, have made ourselves believe that activism is overrated and wrong. As students, who were once the heart of change and hope, we have let ourselves accept the system as is. We aim to only serve ourselves, believing naively, that we remain insulated from the world around us.

Sitting at home on Labor Day Sunday, thinking about those who laid their lives on May 4, 1886 at the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, fighting for the right to work no more than eight hours a day, I realized I wouldn’t have this holiday if not for these people that believed in a cause 130 years ago.

I realized that we wouldn’t be thinking about a work-life balance, labor laws and minimum-wage debates today if those men and women had not stepped up to fight for what they believed was their right.

And I wondered: what are we as a generation going to be known for? The generation that goes to work, makes money and sits at home before the TV watching nudity play out on an HBO fantasy show?

I am not an activist, but maybe it’s time to not treat those that are with cynicism each day.

My good friend Lauren has recently been doing just that. She refuses to buy clothes made in sweatshops in other countries, she’s sticking to affordable Made-in-U.S.A. apparel, and so far it’s been a little harder, but do-able.

What she’s doing showed me that we all have something we care about. It’s finding that cause and staying true to it.

Perhaps it’s time to believe that some people are in this business of healing the world and making it a better place because they care for the cause and it’s not just a PR gimmick.

Maybe Labor Day is a good day to renew these vows of activism, of supporting a cause and of living by the principles of that cause.

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