Hungry people don’t stay hungry for long
They get hope from fire and smoke as the wheat grows strong
Hungry people don’t stay hungry for long
They get hope from fire and smoke as they reach for the dawn
That line by Rage Against the Machine in ‘New Millenium Homes’ has long been one of my rallying cries in life. It symbolizes so many things that I hold near and dear to my heart. Idealism, rebellion, grass-roots movements, passion, people coming together, causes and visions bigger than your self alone, resistance and strength and dignity and purpose.
In the song it is the undercurrent but very real threat of people who are oppressed, marginalized, disenfranchised and stepped upon rising up, throwing off the shackles and demanding their due bread. Because they are hungry and hunger makes you act when you would rather not.
In my mind the people, long oppressed, when they finally see the injustice of the broken system and the hunger and the anger gets strong enough, rise up victoriously, albeit messily and take the power back. They shake off that which has kept them hungry and burdened and they partake of the bread and slake their ravenous hunger.
In my experience the people, long oppressed, when they finally see the injustice of the broken system and the hunger and the anger gets strong enough tend to get easily distracted by shiny baubles of entertainment snacks and turn disinterestedly towards whatever red herring they were presented. They slump into further complacency and keep their hunger and burden just on the edge of consciousness.
This has ripped the idealistic flaming heart from my breast and tossed it upon the ever-growing funeral pyre of idealism’s death. Where it smoldered and blackened for lack of oxygen.
I am an unrepentant idealist. I am not a pie in the sky, ‘I wish the world was all daisy’s and leprechauns’ (although THAT would be hecka rad!). I am the real idealist. That means that I look at the world differently than some. I don’t see problems or obstacles, I tend to see paths around them. I am an idealist in that I see how the world or a problem IS, and if I decide it should be different than it is currently, I take actions to change it for the better. Idealists aren’t dreamy eyed fantasy escapists. Idealists are dreamers and shapers and changers and doers.
Don’t worry, if this strikes you as foreign or wrong, you are not an idealist. It’s OK. We got this.
Allow me to make a radical topical lane change.
Last Tuesday I went to a political rally in San Diego. I found out about it on Sunday night when they announced the rally in an email. Within 6 hours the entire convention center halls they had reserved had been RSVP’d to it’s capacity. I went to the rally about 45 minutes before the doors scheduled to open at 5 pm for an 8 pm start time. The event was held at the San Diego convention center which is a remarkably large building. I pulled up in my Lyft, to avoid parking hassles, and saw that there was a pretty good number of people out front of the convention center. Easily several hundred. I was suitably impressed with the turnout on such notice as I made my way to the line that was already moving pretty quickly. Sweet, I’m getting in easily! I joined the single file line that was snaking past the other single file line but going in the opposite direction. I asked a few people if this was the line and no one knew for sure but that it WAS a line and it was moving. So we walked down the side of the convention center. We turned the corner, passing ad hoc hawkers of dubiously official merchandise, and continued to weave our way behind the convention center. All the while passing the other stationary line to our left. We have easily passed an additional 300-500 people in the other line. I cannot see where the line in front of me nor behind me ends it is so long. We eventually make it about 1/3rd of the way along the length of the convention center when we finally burst out of the maze of convention center backside areas into the open sky of the San Diego marina boardwalk. At this point no one has any real idea if we are actually in the line for the event or where we are going. We are however now walking AWAY from the convention center because the line snakes ahead of us languorously.
As we escape the confines of the converter center building and enter the massive bay side marina park the sheer massive numbers of people is astounding. I can now see part of the line that is facing back towards the convention center and is now clearly in FRONT of us. I begin to try to follow this orderly, nearly single file line as it weaves and jukes around the entire marina.
But the line, actually passes over the horizon line and disappears. Not the back of the line, the middle of the line does this. There are so many thousands of people lined up to get into this hastily called political event that the MIDDLE of the line to get in is so far away that I can’t see it from this side of the marina. We are despairing that we will be able to find the end of this line in order to get in and even more doubtful that we will ever actually get inside the event. Then a smiling leprechaun with daisy’s in her hair kindly waved at our group and pointed to our left and said the end of the line is right over there. (I might be exaggerating the daisies)
We get in the end of the line. We are so far back in line that we literally cannot see where the line we are in goes to. The 10’s of thousands of people have self managed and self organized themselves into a complex, meandering line that follows land counters and structures while maximizing use of space. There are absolutely no volunteers, workers, sign holders, direction givers, security guards or any one official at all. The organization of the line has been purely organic.
By this time it is about 20 minutes since I arrived because it took so long to walk the length of the line and get to the end which had looped back upon itself many multiple times. It was about 4:30 pm. Doors supposed to open at 5:00. I’m feeling OK because I can’t actually see how long the line is so I don’t know how many people there actually are. There are so many people, in a line so long, it goes far enough away that I cannot see most of it. We settle in to wait.
We end up waiting in line almost 4 hours before we even get inside because there are so many people that they had to double the size of the first room. Then when they realized that was not enough they had to take over the next two halls and set those up as well as overflow rooms. The wait was not that bad as I had a great many incredible conversations with highly interesting people. Because passionate idealists are always interesting, quality people. Eventually they quadrupled the space and people they had planned for and still had to turn away thousands of people at the end.
The line behind us is filling steadily with 1000’s of people. The line behind us folds and doubles and loops all over the marina so that it becomes nearly impossible to see which direction any section of the line is going.
After about an hour and fifteen minutes or so the line begins to ever so slowly creep forward. When i say forward I actually mean away. We were so far back in the line that we started facing away from the convention center and walked about a 1/2 mile away before turning back to face the center. All told it took more than 3 hours to worm our way into the center and into the joined overflow rooms.
To put this in perspective you had about 15,000 people show up to a political rally that was not a protest or for a specific cause. The majority of the crowd was between 20-35 years old, so a younger crowd heavily weighted with teenagers and college age kids.
There were absolutely zero signs, directions, officials, guards, security or volunteers directing anyone so it was completely self organized.
This young, boisterous crown waited in a line for 4-5 hours with no updates, no real information or hints as to whether they would actually get inside.
The wait was so long and unplanned that there were hundreds of delivery vehicles making food deliveries to feed people in a non stop parade.
So imagine if you will a young college age crowd arriving at a big beautiful park for a massive event. Imagine now that 15,000 of them crowded into a park space that would normally hold 5,000 max. They are boisterous, passionate, excited and eager. Most brought water bottles, snacks and food. Many hundreds more got food delivered while in line.
I am sure that you can see the trash and garbage and mess that this young crowd is leaving behind in their smart phone fueled fiesta. The friendly disagreements turn vulgar or mean. The arguments over people cutting in line or saving space for their friends. Fists and words fly. Voices are raised. Security is called. The place is trashed and filthy after five hours of chaos.
You have seen it dozens of times am I right?
It was nothing like that. The only raised voice I heard was a mother yelling at her kids to come back over to her in line. I never saw a single person cut in line, get rude or cause an incident.
It was freakishly peaceful and calm and happy. People seemed legitimately happy and did not seem to mind standing in line for 5 hours one little bit. There remained excited and happy and smiling. I started to notice it the longer I was there. At first my eyes could not be trusted because I expected trashing, trouble and drama. There was none.
I estimate that at the point we were in line that we were behind about 12,000 people (based on the official numbers of attendance and the capacity of each room). And another 3,000 to 7,000 people were behind me. So I got to walk the exact same path as the 12,000 people in front of me who had also waited 4-5 hours in line. I made my way slowly along the path in line following a human chain 12,000 strong.
I passed roughly 6-8 trash cans along the route. Every one of them was a miracle in its own right. I expected that area around the trash cans would be a disaster. It was instead highly organized, radically tidy and almost artistically arranged. Every trash can was the same. Row upon row of water and juice bottles lined up like orderly soldiers. There was absolutely no random trash scattered around the trash cans. All stray pieces are placed neatly into bags, boxes, bottles or something to contain it and stacked neatly next to or on top of the full to capacity trash cans.
But this was nothing compared to my next realization. As we finally made our way back to the actual convention center 3 hours of walking later and rounded the corner to the front of the center I had an epiphany. I realized that I had been expecting to see massive volumes of trash and wrappers along the path of the line. But instead I had been counting them. I suddenly realized why. There had been a total of THREE individual pieces of trash along the path of 15,000 people waiting 5 hours.
Three individual pieces of trash. All the rest people had carefully put in or on the trash cans.
15,000 people had, without any prompting, organization, signs, leaders or direction automatically cleaned up and left as close to zero trash as is possible.
Three individual pieces of trash. For 15,000 people.
That is a remarkably impactful thing. Let it sink in for a while as you also realize that these same people are the much maligned millennials that are purely self-absorbed and selfish.
And that they waited in line for 5 hours without any direction or leadership. For a political rally. In San Diego. On a Tuesday night. With less than 48 hours notice of the event.
This amazing, inspired and beautiful experience awakened my sleeping idealist and sparked a fitful fire of hope.
The fitful roared into a raging, idealist bonfire when I asked the two 22-year-old young women behind me why they liked the candidate we were here to see. They said they supported him because he was fervently working on refocusing the priorities of our country back onto its people and that he gave them hope that they could make the world a better place. When I jokingly teased them and said
“Oh, you’re not just here because he is promising a free college education like everyone says about young people who support him?”
One of them looked me in the eye and said
“No. We’re already in college, we’re fucked. We wont get any break on tuition or college debt even if he can get it passed. We are supporting him because we want our kids, if we ever have any, to have a future.”
I am struck dumb by this deeply heartfelt reply from a young lady of a generation who most are writing off as self-absorbed, entitled, lazy, narcissistic and checked out.
As the fire of my idealist surged in my heart I had a second epiphany.
I realized with utter clarity that my parents generation, and my generation all started out a bit idealistic with high expectations and then we allowed our idealism to be mocked, battered, questioned, reasoned with, battered, watered down with lowered expectations and lesser of two evils thinking. We had allowed our fires of idealist be snuffed out and replaced with cynicism. But given enough time crushed idealism turned cynicism evolves cruelly into being jaded.
My parents generation and even my generation had grown coldly cynical and angrily jaded.
My realization, shaped by this event, the actions and words of the people there and the cumulative actions of the millions of other young people taking an active role in this political revolution, was that although the current young adult generation is absolutely brutally cynical, by and large they are NOT jaded. That is not what most older people say about them.
They were born cynical with nearly continuous and instant access to a universe of data, information, memes, rumors and opinions spewing forth in a non-stop barrage. Their world is far more transparent and open than our world at the same ages. That brings a high level of cynicism and questioning.
What gives this old radical idealist hope taller than a Georgia pine, is that I am seeing the political revolution movement awakening in our great country and bringing a literal army of millions upon millions of the next generation of cynical but un-jaded idealists. They are not willing to accept that the way things are is the way they have to be. This is the generation who have never known a world without the internet and personal computers and a super computer that fits in your pocket that can communicate with every living should on the planet instantly. This is not magic to them, this is how life is. If you see a problem you fix it. This is the state of millennials in the political revolution.
This is the new generation of idealists that is going to usher in the coming political revolution. And this time the revolution doesn’t need to be televised. TV is dead. This revolution is hand to hand and real-time status updates.