The meeting broke up when the rain pelted down. Thirteen people in front of a tea house in a small town. One man quoted Gramsci: “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” A much younger one with piercings explained why voting was a sham, we needed to change our daily lives, reach out to others and link in brotherhood across the world. A third slammed into the quoter of Gramsci (and member of the Communist Party) – how could a Party who’d followed the Stalinist line all those years, etc. Some of the exchanges I couldn’t make out because of young men driving by, revving their motors or screeching the tires in sync with the rapper blaring off their car radio.
At least four of the thirteen said they wouldn’t vote at the presidential election next year. I can’t vote anyway, seeing as I’m an alien from the Americas. So what was I doing at the meeting, you ask? Putting in my two cents’ worth and listening to what others had to say.
Three of the thirteen are members of the Communist Party. One of them, of Algerian origin, spoke about the massacres that overtook his country of birth in the late eighties and nineties, and how we take democratic freedoms for granted until we lose them. The young man with piercings asked: “what freedoms?” The older one answered: “Sitting outside with others, debating on whether to vote or not, for instance.” From the younger one’s reaction, you could tell this was much too little to satisfy his longing for universal brotherhood.
For/Against. Yes/No. On/Off. We/Them. Party discipline. Maybe, just maybe, the Gramsci quote isn’t complete, the quoter and I said while the group sheltered from the rain. Maybe the “new world” needs more of our attention, and the monsters, less. Maybe the monsters will take the day. Maybe not, if we act as if the future isn’t foregone. As if an endless rush into bigger meaner catastrophes isn’t the only option. As if the strict parity of men and women in a rigid binary-system isn’t the be-all of possible higher aspirations. As if a tad more attention to the kids before they freak out doesn’t make more sense than more guns, more tear gas, more water cannons, bombs, etc.
A dreamer? OK. So are we all. Why discard the finer dreams and live out nothing but the worst nightmares? And if the worst nightmares prevail, why not go on preferring the jesters to the kings and pulpit-thumpers, whether self-appointed or elected?
(Although, I admit, on some days, opting away from tragedy and gravitas requires a serious act of will. And the reading of The Tragedy of King Lear in tiny, bite-size increments. This last paragraph, written to the sound of a road crew slicing through concrete with a power saw. Maman. It’s the small stuff that tests the most).