When Nothing Happens

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

During one of my trips to Zuccotti Park in the midst of Occupy Wall Street, I saw a sign hanging in the encampment which featured a possibly apocryphal quote from the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. It read: “There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

We’re currently in a period in which it feels like nothing is happening — nothing good, at least. I notice it in my own activism which seeks to advance cellular agriculture through the political process. Everything seems pointless. I keep on looking over my shoulder for progressive reinforcements and they never come.

I’m learning a big part of being an activist is making it through periods of reaction with your ideals relatively intact. Hope is a precious commodity. Especially when it’s absent, the pull of conformity can be overwhelming. Sometimes, it’s difficult not to see my recent interest in religion, and other things, in this light.

We can only hope the current period doesn’t last decades. Thankfully, I don’t think it will. Much of the current state of the left, in my view, is the result of the upcoming presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Progressives are understandably unenthused with the former and scared of the latter.

Biden’s administration has had some bright spots. His National Labor Relations Board, for instance, has earned the praise of socialists. But fundamentally the Democratic candidate is an octogenarian and lifelong centrist whose outreach to the left over the past few years has been forced upon him by the changing nature of his party’s base.

More recently, of course, Biden is testing the stability of the uneasy alliance of centrists and progressives which put him in office with his unwavering support for Israel’s one-sided war on Gaza. On a moral level, Biden’s position is terrible and on a political level it’s foolish. If he loses reelection, this issue will have been a significant factor.

Meanwhile, Trump remains a threat to democracy and all the left-wing values we hold dear. Unfortunately, we live in a two-party system. I wish a credible left-wing candidate had challenged Biden in the primary, if only to hold him accountable, but my understanding of the filing deadlines is it’s basically too late for that.

Progressives are stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’ll be voting for Biden in November, however, it’s difficult for me to fault those voters, particularly Arab Americans, who find themselves unable to do so. Perhaps I’ll think of some further service I can offer the effort to defeat Trump, while living in solidly-blue Connecticut.

However the election turns out, I’m comforted somewhat by the belief there will be a left-wing resurgence beginning in late 2024. If Trump wins, progressives will fight back. If Biden wins, progressives will no longer need to pull their punches against him. I just need to hold out until then. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

I’ve got to make it approximately 10 months without giving into political despair. There are reinforcements coming. They might not flock to the cause of cellular agriculture — which is admittedly, pretty niche — but the left as a whole will be replenished and re-energized later this year.

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.