Host: Okay guys. Guys? Trish can you turn the music down? Thanks. Guys? [puts microphone against speaker]
Audience: [howls at feedback]
Host: That’s better. Uhm … so this is our third Justice Action assembly. So on behalf of the Omaha chapter of Food Not Bombs I’d like to thank you for taking your time, taking the interest, and wanting to make real change possible. Give yourselves a hand, I guess.
Audience: [politely claps]
Host: I’d like to thank Mootopia for providing these excellent, excellent vegan doughnuts. Oh, uhm, announcements. The signup sheet for the resistance demonstration next Saturday; we need a rough headcount, we also need transportation volunteers, legal counsel or people who know legal counsel. So just make a note next to your name if you have those or any additional qualities I can’t think of right now. The Black Hundreds need a place to crash for Friday’s show.
Host: I know, I know their reputation. But Lance has vouched for them—
Audience member: Lance is a shithead.
Host: Anyway, we’ll also be passing around a donation bucket for rental fees, gas money, and general upkeep so … please be generous. Demos are not donations, people.
So tonight’s speaker … uhm … it might be better to have him tell you. His name is Brad. He’s a freelance … activist. He came in from, I think, Des Moines … maybe? Anyway we heard about him because he made a stir out there and has an important presentation on maximizing our grassroots impact. Anyway, please give it up for Brad.
Audience: [claps politely]
Brad: Thank you. [pause] For the past couple of months I’ve been going around to groups like these. Meeting in venues, in community centers, basements, and occasionally—often regrettably—in bars, and I’ve been talking to people about indifference. We know all about indifference. We are here because we have to constantly confront it or maneuver around it. It’s very powerful to exercise on a mass scale. And that’s kind of how it works, doesn’t it? The more power you acquire, the more room you have to turn your gaze any way you wish. It’s a nice cold reality check. Because power always looks away from the same direction: away from the broad and toward the narrow. And if you happen to be in the narrow it’s fantastic. But, to varying degrees, we often find ourselves behind institutions. Government is indifferent, the schools are indifferent, the police—on a good day—are indifferent. The family, too, may be indifferent.
So what do we do here? Each of us has different terms, different applications, and different methods to battle mass indifference. Resistance, opposition, progress, liberation. Action, generally speaking, but I prefer care. It’s sort of a better contrast. True, care is kind of a nothing term on the surface, like niceness. If it means anything it means something babyish and coddling. Think self-care, whatever that is. It takes a lot of tenacity to scrape off the liberal lacquering over such language, but once you do something entirely unrecognizable but entirely arresting is shown to you. There’s something awesome about care, something even devastating about it. When you care for something or someone, or when you or your cause is cared about, even on some passingly trivial level that the caregiver is soon to forget, it means the world. It sometimes even shakes someone’s assumptions to their foundation and must then be rebuilt with new schematics.
Having those sides established we like to think we know where we stand. And that’s generally how these talks go, right? We care. And we affirm our caring ways using tidied up platitudes from a generation that might as well be from another universe, we take them out into the streets through engagement, awareness, dialogue, demonstration, and so on, and the cycle perpetuates. How does that feel when you do it over and over to the same effect? Whatever good intentions and principles these acts started out with, over time they wear down gradually until they become yellowed kitsch items that we rediscover at an estate sale and hang up to accentuate our personal space for added authenticity.
I blame no one for this degradation. Indifference is among the most easily communicated viruses. But that doesn’t excuse the obligation to confront and accept one’s indifference to, if not the stated goal at hand, then any wider vision or consequence on which any goal might depend.
Audience member: And?
Brad: I don’t actually know.
Audience member: What?
Brad: I never could quite nail down the rest because by that point the audience would revolt and run me out of the venue. I guess this was one way of saying I was bringing the wrong message. You see, I came from back east with a sudden but vague sense of affecting change from the dregs up. I didn’t know what compelled me to do so at the time. I had never done this before and had only a hunch as to where I was to go to do it. So it’s been haphazard to say the least. It was not until just last week that I had found out what the right message was. My last attempt to speak in Des Moines went expectedly south. With nowhere to go I washed some dishes at a diner and holed up in the warmest corner I could find at the bus depot. I was woken up at two in the morning to two cops dragging out someone who claimed had lost his ticket and was soliciting donations for a new one. He was giving some resistance and they were giving back. My original instinct was to do the acceptable thing and pretend nothing was happening, but this time was different, and I can’t explain adequately what caused this. But I got up and sought to deescalate the situation. Or at least pay for the man’s damn ticket.
This didn’t go well, because it was only a matter of seconds before a white light came over me. Then I found myself walking in the middle of what I think was I-95 in what looked like a summer traffic jam. There were cars lining every lane in both directions but they weren’t moving, because they were empty. The silence was absolute, no motors, no horns, and no voices, not even from birds. I looked up and saw a blanket of red come above and block the sky. It came over like a wave and came down like a swarm, but of rose pedals, covering every inch of the earth. And then a great wind gusted and blew everything away, clearing the road. I awoke in a cot in the break room. I’d been tazed, apparently. Maybe people who get tazed see this all the time and think nothing of it, but I couldn’t let it go. On the bus to the next city I pored over every detail I could recall. And by the time I had reached Omaha City limits I’d come to what I accept to be the appropriate conclusion.
Audience member: Which is?
Host: Our task is to work for peace?
Audience member: Like … inner peace?
Brad: Peace in total. Peace for humankind and from there, the earth.
Audience member: Okay, sounds good. How?
Brad: I have no idea.
Audience: [howls and boos]
Host: Hold it, hold it. Shut up! This isn’t looking like much of a talk.
Brad: Well it’s not quite so easy. You can talk about justice because justice has substance. You know what you’re getting and you sure as hell know what you’re being denied. But peace is impossible. Sure, there have been movements for peace in the past, but stopping war is not quite the same thing, good though that is. Peace in its own way is terrifying. What does it mean? To make all of humanity quiet. But what does that entail? Often it just means a more equitable indifference. I need to tread carefully.
Host: So why speak on peace at all? Why not just justice? That seems more within our realm. More manageable.
Brad: Because maybe justice is only a part of it. And maybe it’s not enough. Maybe peace is so immense that justice is a kind of parasitic appendage. It’s minutiae. Anyway I come telling you what I am told to tell you.
Audience member: Who tells you?
Brad: I’d just as soon not say.
Host: It’s not Robby Mook, is it?
Brad: No! Fuck off.
Audience member: Holy shit. Is it God? Daryl did you bring a cult leader here?
Host: Okay, hold on. Hold on.
Brad: See, this is what I was worried would happen.
Audience: [jeers and swearing]
Audience member: Get out! Fuck off!
Brad: So what if I am? [pause] And you think I enjoy this? You think this is something I just woke up and decided to do? To leave my job as a video editor and my friends and family for dumb fucking Eat, Pray, Love vision quest? Fuck you. It’s not a new t-shirt I put on, or some gift I willingly received. It’s really fun ending every day with vomiting fits and night terrors.
Host: About what?
Brad: About consequences. It’s like I’m being shown all the ways this thing I said or that thing I said gets twisted into some monstrous new form and perpetuates the very pain I’m trying to undo. Not out of malice but out of simple habit. I don’t know if being conscious of that makes it better. I hope it does. But really, beware certainty and self-confidence, they are blinders. The false visionaries are easy to spot. They are not the purveyors of sinister intent or impure principle, but of coziness in the knowledge that what they do may be precisely what people want or need now, but doesn’t ultimately make any difference hereafter. Affirmation without responsibility is no good answer.
Audience member: You’ve given us no answers.
Brad: There’s no one answer.
Audience member: Pray?
Brad: That’s a start.
Audience member: Abstain from sex.
Brad: If that’s what helps.
Audience member: This is bullshit.
Brad: Look. I was originally of two minds with this. Part of me wanted to take what I had been told and craft a eulogy around it. Let’s decline, yes, but with dignity and solemnity. Even love. It would have been easy to profess just piggybacking on what I had essentially always thought. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to think like that. It came to me while sitting at a Dairy Queen in between bus rides and seeing a mother corral four children on the next table. I think it really hit home when one of them flung their blizzard spoon at the side of my head. Maybe we could be saved. And maybe that it’s best not to think of it was something we get to be and something we ought to be. And that we ought to be doing this in unison. Thinking of it in the abstract makes it daunting. But thinking in steps we make toward this common end makes it achievable. And make no mistake; I want this vision to cast a shadow over the whole country and then some, even if that means consigning more than a handful of people to misery.
Audience member: So why tell us? And not, like, church people.
Brad: Because eventually you’d listen. And eventually you’d talk, even if unfavorably, to anyone who would hear. And you will keep talking and take what I said more seriously than others. Whatever the source of the directive, we are our own experts. We are ever at each other’s mercy, and a lot of the time the wrong people are the ones most aware of that. [pause] Oh, I think, technically, I was supposed to follow up my proposal with the warning that if you don’t heed the proposal that untold suffering and toil will be in store for us all. But I made a judgment call and thought that might be a bit redundant. But … still.
Audience: [politely claps]
Host: Thanks, Brad, that definitely gave us something to consider. Oh! A reminder, Wednesday’s self-defense seminar will have a special tactical tutorial for the demonstration. We’ll be talking pepper spray remedies, the buddy system all that. And also, The Ain’t Rights had to cancel, obviously, so we need a new opener for Friday, leave your demos with Trish, please. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Thanks everyone for coming. Goodnight.