What I.F. Stone Said

I’ve been struggling lately with a sense of political hopelessness. We’re only a couple of years removed from an attempted fascist coup and our geriatric Democratic leadership is already back to pretending it’s the 1990s again. All the grand hopes of reforming the system following Donald Trump’s 2020 loss, by packing the Supreme Court and adding states to the union, are gone.

Of course, I’m glad Trump is no longer in power, but it’s hard not to notice how the grassroots left has gone into hibernation since Joe Biden’s victory. The progressive imagination has become severely constricted. Suddenly, we’re happy the ransom demanded by Republicans as part of the debt-ceiling negotiations wasn’t quite as punishing as we thought it might be.

Many activists I met or connected with online during Barrack Obama’s presidency have dropped out of the scene. I’m not sure if this is a result of disillusionment or the onset of adult responsibilities. I understand both to a certain extent. Aside from attending a Black Lives Matter protest here and a labor picket there, I spent much of the Trump era writing books and starting a family.

In my current activism, I seem to have run into a brick wall. By protesting outside the offices of Senator Chris Murphy and Representative John Larson, I quickly got both to commit to supporting increased public funds for cultivated-meat research. For those who don’t know, cultivated meat is grown from livestock cells, without slaughter. It’s better for animal welfare, the environment and public health.

But I haven’t had the same success protesting outside of Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office. After getting an ambiguous response from the politician, I haven’t received any communication from his staff since. Sometimes, I think about moving on to Representative Jim Himes’ office, but I worry about the precedent I would set by giving up in the face of obstinacy.

Feeling discouraged, I was reminded of a quote from the left-wing journalist I.F. Stone that graced the blog of the late Marxist Louis Proyect. Though I never met Proyect in person, ever since he died, I’ve wanted to write a remembrance of him. I planned my first trip to Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street protests in the comment section of his website.

Proyect introduced me to Pham Binh and the socialist’s North Star blog. Both were important to my political development in the early 2010s. Proyect published my work about animal rights on his website and promoted it on his Marxism mailing list. Later, we unsuccessfully tried to raise money on Indiegogo for me to write his biography.

The I.F. Stone quote read as follows: “The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose,  because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing — for the sheer fun and joy of it — to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.”

When I wrote my biography of Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front, I used the first sentence of this quote to describe Lee’s activism. But as I struggle with this sense of political hopelessness, I realize the latter half is equally important. In order to sustain activism over the long haul, you need to find the fun and joy in it. That’s something I’m working on.

Jon Hochschartner is the author of a number of books about animal-rights history, including The Animals’ Freedom Fighter, Ingrid Newkirk, and Puppy Killer, Leave Town. He blogs at SlaughterFreeAmerica.Substack.com.