Tag Archives: examples

Dirty Water

When I try to convince someone that my way is better than theirs, I don’t stand there and tell them their glass is dirty, and as a result they’re drinking dirty water. I just stand quietly, drinking my clear water from a sparkling clean glass, and let them draw their own conclusions. — Malcolm X, paraphrased

for Malcolm Little

We still drink dirty water
although forty years have passed,
and despite decades of struggle
have yet to be free at last

from the misguided notions
that served us to some degree,
but lay the blame at our own feet
at our hypocrisy

Equality? That’s just a word
that draws the softer vote;
and even then, you hear it catch
in politician’s throats

when they survey the ghetto
from inside their limousines
on their way to a better home
than most have ever seen.

It’s more than just a color bar
that splits this land apart.
There’s a flaw in our base logic
that divides the mind and heart:

if we don’t believe we’re equal,
at the core built just the same,
then what good are politicians,
save for dividing the blame?

If we simply clean our glasses,
but still draw from dirty wells,
the sole use for spit and polish
is reflecting the same hell.

23 JAN 2005

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I’m reading tompaine.com and searching for common sense. I have said before that if you’re in a band, and you don’t think you’re at least as good as the Rolling Stones (or whoever your particular idol is), then you might as well hang up the guitars and become accountants. The point is that while every garage band does not have what it takes to become a legend, if it does not THINK it has what it takes, it doesn’t have a chance — even if it has whatever other ingredients are required. Ringo Starr once said, “For a while, we thought the Beatles were the greatest band in the world. And it turns out, we were.”

The same thing applies to everything we do — but particularly to political activism, I think. We look at figures like Gandhi, Tutu, King (and maybe even Abbie Hoffman) and say, “Man, we’ll never have that kind of impact. We’ll never be that.” And so we never have the chance.

The bottom line is this: either you think you can change the world, or you can’t. Changing the world is not a small undertaking. In fact, no one in their right mind even expects that changing the world is necessarily a good thing, or possible. Even fewer really believe that they know how it should be changed.

But it can be done. It must be done, on occasion. But in order for it to occur, there have got to be people out there not who believe that they are on a par with Gandhi, or Tutu or Mandela, but who are their own equivalents. It’s a dangerous path. Gandhi didn’t believe that he was changing the world. He just did what he knew was right.

The trick is to avoid those comparisons altogether. To stop ranking revolutionaries by their press. And to believe that you can make a difference, simply by doing what is right. If you don’t believe you can do it, it will never happen.

A recent article I read
bewailed the current clime:
where democrats are losers,
and the left wing in decline.

It said, observing Tutu dancing,
we will not be him;
our causes never quite that grand,
our aspirations, whims.

Most activists I know, in fact,
regard themselves as small,
and rate their struggles miniscule
despite grand names and all.

That seems so self-defeating;
to restrict yourself to trite
rehashing of some petty cause
and never see the fight.

It’s like a band in a garage
when someone dares suggest
that they could be the Rolling Stones…
and awestruck, only jest.

While it is true, the fighter’s forged
in a specific flame,
one can be just as meaningful
without being the same.

Too many think the battle’s
in the streets or on TV;
the truth is, wars are won or lost
inside of you and me.

21 JAN 2005

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