Every once in a while, something happens to remind us that life is anything but mundane. A few weeks ago, my evening Netflix “West Wing” binge was interrupted by a 10:30 phone call. It was a friend calling to remind me of my better self.
“Hey. Am I interrupting anything?” my friend asked.
Nope. Not at all.
“I was just watching a documentary on Sacco and Vanzetti and wrote down a quote. Can I read it to you?” I turned the TV off.
“I champion the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the simple and the persecuted. I maintain that whosoever benefits or hurts a man benefits or hurts the whole species. I sought my liberty and the liberty of all, my happiness and the happiness of all. I wanted a roof for every family, bread for every mouth, education for every heart, light for every intellect. I am convinced that human history has not yet begun, that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky is diffused with the rays of the new millennium.”
That was Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the Italian anarchist and believer in the propaganda of the deed. He and Nicola Sacco were apprehended for the armed robbery of a Braintree, Mass. shoe factory in 1920. They were tried and executed on Aug. 23, 1927, in what has been later recognized as a very flawed judicial process.The Sacco and Vanzetti trial was a cause that galvanized protests around the globe.
On the 50th anniversary of the trial, Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis directed the Office of the Governor’s Legal Counsel to review the trial evidence according to modern standards. Based upon their findings, he declared Sacco and Vanzetti Memorial Day, and he issued a proclamation stating that they had been unfairly tried and convicted, and that “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names.”
And now my friend, who I hadn’t heard from for nearly a year — a public defender who’d been deeply involved in the Occupy movement — was on the phone, quoting a long-dead Italian anarchist, apropos of nothing.
“So, let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re home watching a Sacco and Vanzetti movie. You hear this quote. You write it down, and the first thing you do is call me to share?”
Because, he said, this is exactly what Real Change is all about, isn’t it? The paper isn’t always as radical as it could be, but at its best, Real Change offers this sort of challenge.
“This is what you need to be doing,” he said.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “It is.”
How do we bridge the enormous gap between what is and what should be? It’s not an easy or simple question, and the inducements to quiescence are all around us, from the easy consumer comforts that keep us calmed and content, to the fantasy politics of the Bartlet administration and the enduring allure of the Obama brand.
Those challenges now feel more urgent than ever. World war looms in the Mideast and Russia. Impoverished and desperate children to the south challenge the convenient fiction of national borders.
The polar ice caps are going, going, gone and parts of Miami are already under water. What are we to do?
We are to live in the holy imagination of the impossible. To find our fire and burn in our own light. To turn off our TVs, stand outside of the lie, live “in the human history that has not yet begun,” and birth the new millennium. Can we do that?
We can die trying.