Keep Your Head Down; Keep Your Passport Current

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Maybe it’s the frontier ethos or lots of consumer goods to buoy our psyches for those who remain on the US left with still-functioning minds and who have learned to produce ever-new scenarios in which the systems we now live under will somehow be reformed and work for the betterment of the [all] species.

In “Fish Peddler and Cobbler,” poet Kenneth Rexroth reflects that perennial hope that some on the left hold on to:

Hope that came to an end as
The iron fist began to close. No one electrocuted me.
Nothing happened. Time passed.
Something invisible was gone.
We thought then that we were the men [sic]
Of the years of the great change,
That we were the forerunners of the normal life of mankind [sic].
We thought that soon all things would
Be changed, not just economic
And social relationships…
It will take
Longer than we expected.

When Rexroth wrote those lines, there was still hope for change in a way that couldn’t be perverted by a political campaign, the political system, or some nonsensical and useless innovation of technology. He wrote about real hope for a different order where people and the planet mattered, although we were decades distant from the environmental movement. All of that has now changed and we will soon hang by the same hair that precariously held the Sword of Damocles. Damocles hung on to the precarious hope of happiness; we hang on to the precarious hope for survival.

The same political, economic, and social forces that vomited up Trump, et al., as the frontman of the Apocalypse, will not concede or entertain even the most moderate plans to save the planet and this [all] species from its worst actions.

Nuclear stockpiles are modernized, an insane space force is funded, those seeking protection around the world are tormented by walls, separation, detention, and deportation, while the feedback loops of environmental calamity make themselves known. Even the most idealistic among us know instinctively that there’s something to the title and theme of Chris Hedges’ book: America: The Farewell Tour.

The left in the US has failed in many, many ways. Some among us became so very adept at political correctness that we lost sight of the big picture and the brass ring as we spun around in this often insane world. We broke off into small movements that lacked the organizational ability to connect with other movements. When a group, or groups, following the same or similar cause won some concession from the system, most in the group called it a day and ensconced themselves back into the mainstream. The solidarity that once existed between groups that fought for social change in the 1950s, 1960s, and the beginning of the decade of the 1970s, vanished, or became nonentities with the onslaught of the right and far right. There may not be a way up and out at this point in history.

As one of the survivors of the Kent State University massacre of May 4, 1970 said to me: “Keep your head down.” It’s also a good idea to keep a passport current and valid, if possible.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).