I’ve needed to return to these ideas that I wrote nearly two years ago. Subconsciously I have found myself doing it, reading them in every book that I’ve devoured in the past few weeks. We look to find blame in any other party except ourselves, its that political group, its the food industry, its the patriarchal mindset–but its us. It is us because we allow ourselves to be fooled, to be distracted, to not care.
This was my letter at the beginning of our first issue of /vandal/ 1.1 [walls] . I will soon be writing another, maybe even an entire piece, and I hope that the ideas will be evolved more, because we’ve been doing more to insert ourselves into the responsibility of knowing.
As educator and social critic Jonathan Kozol suggests, too many of us purchase our comfort and security at the cost of building walls around our hearts. The absence of these self-built walls in this issue of vandal leaves a gaping hole in the understanding and consciousness that would empower us to overcome the struggles we face daily as living vehicles of social change.
When we seclude ourselves from one another, when we build these walls, we are allowing others to write the narrative of our community and risk passing on a world that’s meaner; more polarized, more desperate, and unquestionably more corrupt. American society teaches us that history is made by others, that it is out of our hands. Increasingly our knowledge of the world comes from stories scripted by these others, stories whose characters and plot lines are stripped of the most important questions we can ask. This shroud of comfort, of security, replaces our conviction to make change. The dream of private sanctuary, of perfection derived from this constructed history, is an illusion–a facade which erodes our soul by eroding our sense of a larger connection.
The walls we build around ourselves, around those closest to us, and ultimately around our hearts provide just a temporary feeling of safety but they cannot prevent the world from affecting us. The more we construct these barriers, the more our sanctuaries will grow steadily more insecure. With activism, there is no space for these walls to be built up, instead we force the creation of our own narratives as we join with others to close down a toxic wast dump, organize our workplace, or encourage our neighbors to support a political candidate. There is no preordained plot to these stores, no characters free of contradiction or confusion, no tidy, safe ending.
As artists and writers, we seek absolute truth, beauty–perfection–as a way of expressing that which must be shared. As activists too, we often wait for when our courage and wisdom will be the greatest, the issues clearest, our supporters most steadfast, and when sharing is all too easy. Such hesitation is reasonable for we are subject to real pressures and constraints, just like those we face in our creative work. But when in life will we not be subject to pressures of one kind or another? When will public participation not require a shift from familiar and comfortable habits? When will sharing the truth ever be easy? The issues that most need our attention will always be the most complex, most forbidding and most difficult to address. And while we wait for the ideal time to arrive, weeks, months, and years pass by as we squander repeated opportunities to involved ourselves in the larger community. We play it safe. We build walls to block out the causes whose justification may be imperfect and whose outcome is far from certain–in other words, causes that are real.
So many times I have been told that to be a writer, I must write–thinking about it, talking about it, reading about it, does not make me a writer. So too to be an activist, I must act. I must create that narrative that disallows walls to be built around me, a new history for myself that protects the sense of who I am, a sense which leads me to risk criticism, alienation, and serious loss while other similarly harmed remain silent but comfortable and safe.
It is this false sense of comfort that keeps people from standing up for themselves, their neighbors and their earth. The same false sense that keeps artists and writers in the safety zone, a category free of polarizing politics. There is not truth in comfort, no truth in silence. For silence, as an activist or artist or plain human being, is more costly than speaking out for it requires the ultimate sacrifice–our spirit.
It takes energy to mute our voices while the environment is ravaged, greed runs rampant, and families sleep in the streets. It take energy to distort our words and actions because we fear the consequences. It takes energy to act, but its more draining to bury anger, to convince yourself you’re powerless, or to swallow what’s handed to you. We do not have time or energy to wast on silence and comfort. The times I’ve compromised my spirit and accepted something I shouldn’t in order for others to feel comfortable, the ghosts of my choices have come to haunt me proving that only when I could begin to voice the difficult truths of my experience could I begin to change and build, not walls but myself and community up.
As artists and writers, our work is best when we find that difficult truth inside ourselves and finally release it to overtake our creation–no matter the backlash, reviews, or chance at failure. Our work is best when instead of building walls, it breaks them down.
As activists, we are most effective when we realize that there is no perfect time to get involved in social change, no ideal circumstances for voicing our convictions, there is only the realization that our daily lives are nothing more than a livelong series of imperfect moments in which we must decide what to stand for, what to climb over.
I sometimes need a hand, a stool, a lift to get over a wall I come up against, self-built or otherwise. In founding vandal, it is the hope of Daniel, Angie, and myself that the narrative created here will be that step you need to get to the other side, to pass up silence and comfort, to ignite the strength needed to polarize yourself in order to save your spirit.
The rest of the issue can be seen here.
/vandal/ issue 2.1 [in/security] will be out this fall.