Fighting Poverty with Passion
What does it mean to serve a nation without holding a gun or flying a jet?
No one will be surprised to learn that Angela Davis is a major hero of mine. I think she is a great inspiration and a complicated figure. Some current radicals and revolutionaries say she has settled down, eased off on the militancy that she once was so infamous for. And yet her current position as a speaker and advocate allows her to accomplish so much more than she would from a prison cell. In her current lectures and talks a theme that appears often, maybe coming from her and maybe coming from me listening to her, is what do people who want radical change do after storming the courtroom. How do we live a revolutionary life long-term?
This is tricky business. Living a life of service is harder and more complicated than raw violent sacrifice. Many things get in the way: ego, love, laziness, apathy. The tricky part about living a long revolutionary life is that we can’t just do it and change things for people. We can’t just make justice ourselves, alone, and distribute it to the masses. The higher end of serving in a revolutionary way is empowering other folks (ideally the least enfranchised) to serve their own communities and themselves. This isn’t only better ideally, its more effective.
I am a complicated patriot. I don’t like much about our current norms or current policies or current material condition. I don’t much care for the identity of ‘American’. Despite this, I do think that the great need we have for justice does create opportunities for people like Angela Davis and Emma Goldman and George Carter to become heroes we can all look up to. I think that parallel to our horrific history are narratives of resistance and liberation. And for every famous devoted servant of the people is a great sea of people who just try to be good people. I think serving in AmeriCorps probably rests somewhere in the middle.
Serving in AmeriCorps is one variation on living a life of positive change. It means that to be of value to our country, a country whose ways which many of us frown upon, we choose to enlist in a US anti-poverty workforce. Many times this service, as with the military, is connected with lots of other forces (money, housing, etc.) but I do believe that many AmeriCorps volunteers hope to make the world better and hope that their service means something to the world and our people.
If we are not serving nationalist ends then what are we serving? We are serving people and hoping, many of us, to write a new history that honors those liberation narratives. We serve not the nation-state but the nation’s people.