New Poem: “A Pragmatist’s Guide to Magic” + Consolidated List of Activist Resources

“This is my disillusionment. Not the absence of hope; the absence of illusion.”

I’m always grateful for the signal-boosts that I get from Button, but I am especially grateful for this one. This is a poem that I’ve been working on for years, through multiple drafts, through my own growth and shifting consciousness. I’m not sure that it would ever win a slam or get published in a big journal, but I know it’s one of the most important things that I’ve written, for myself.

It’s also part of a series of poems really digging into the idea of what activism is– not just what it is on an intellectual level, but what it looks like, and how we can all use the power we have to do right by each other. That series also includes Quicksand, Thoughts and Prayers, and some new pieces that aren’t online yet.

I wanted to use this post not only to share the poem, but to consolidate some of the posts that I’ve been making lately sharing resources and strategies for people who are interested in getting involved in activist work. Because now is the time. I hope you can find something useful in these:

Of What Future Are These The Wild, Early Days? (Resources for Emerging Movement-Builders)
A new (2023) zine expanding on a bunch of ideas on this page, including some of my favorite resources, books, and quotes.

For People Who Want to “Do” Something But Don’t Know What to Do
This is a piece I wrote sharing some of the basics of how everyday people can use the power that we have to make a difference. It also features a big list of cool Twin Cities-area activist organizations. It’s built around the phrase: “Just because you don’t have the power to run out the front door and magically ‘fix’ everything, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have power.”

My TEDx Talk: Five Things Art Taught Me About Activism
Despite the title, this is not just for artists. This is a talk about how the questions that artists ask often mirror the questions that emerging/aspiring activists ask. The steps that artists take from idea, to concept, to art often mirror the steps that activists take from value, to principle, to action. If you’re looking to dive in, but don’t know where to start, this is for you.

For People Who Aren’t Usually “Political” but Know that Something Very Wrong is Happening Right Now
This piece is more specifically about the family separation crisis that has been in the news this past month. It shares links to good local organizations, plus a few potential action steps.

Beyond the Benefit: Ten Ways Artists Can Help Build and Support Movements
While the previous three links are for everyone, this one is focused on artists– especially musicians, MCs, and other performers. Because one powerful thing we can do is take spaces that are not activist spaces, and *make* them activist spaces. Burst the bubbles.

A Few Thoughts on “Political” Poetry and How Artists Can Respond to the Present Moment
Another post about agency and action, this time zooming in on poets specifically. Let’s make some noise.

A Few Thoughts and Links RE: The Ongoing Fight for Reproductive Justice
Using my blog time machine to insert a post from May 2019 into a post from June 2018. More resources, more ideas for taking action.

This one isn’t mine, but I wanted to share this moving, important piece from Kelly Hayes called Saturday Afternoon Thoughts on the Apocalypse. A relevant quote: Václav Havel once said that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.” I live in that certainty every day. Because while these death-making systems exist both outside and inside of us, so do our dreams, so long as we are fighting for them. And my dreams are worth fighting for. I bet yours are too.

Finally, a quote; this is from Tony Kushner, by way of Mariame Kaba:

I do not believe the wicked always win. I believe our despair is a lie we are telling ourselves. In many other periods of history, people, ordinary citizens, routinely set aside hours, days, time in their lives for doing the work of politics, some of which is glam and revolutionary and some of which is dull and electoral and tedious and not especially pure – and the world changed because of the work they did. That’s what we’re starting now. It requires setting aside the time to do it, and then doing it. Not any single one of us has to or possibly can save the world, but together in some sort of concert, in even not-especially-coordinated concert, with all of us working where we see work to be done, the world will change. And we have to do it by showing up places, our bodies in places, turn off the fucking computers, leave the Web and the Net – and show up, our bodies at meetings and demos and rallies and leafletting corners. 

Because this is a moment in history that needs us to begin, each of us every day at her or his own pace, slowly and surely rediscovering how to be politically active, how to organize our disparate energies into effective group action – and I choose to believe we will do what is required. Act. Organize. Assemble. Oppose. Resist. Find a place a cause a group a friend and start, today, now now now, continue continue continue. (source)

Feel free to add more in the comments! Here’s the full text of the poem:

A Pragmatist’s Guide to Magic

The pen on the other side of the kitchen table will not move. No matter how hard I concentrate, how laser-precise my focus, how dramatically I arch my fingers, it just sits there. And it should be such a simple thing: to move this tiny object with the vastness of my spirit, to simply lift it up a half inch, to engulf it in flames. But… nothing. This is still long before I learned about physics, right, the whole “an object at rest stays at rest” stuff.

Because what is inertia, to magic? I am ten years old, and the mythology I’ve been fed since birth– folktales, fairy tales, movies, TV shows, comic books, video games– so much of it is built around this reveal: guess what, the spirits say: you’re a wizard. Guess what, you’re a jedi, or a mutant, or “the chosen one,” or the halfblood child of a god. Which is a good thing, because we are at war, and we need… you.

So focus, the spirits say. That pen on the kitchen table will move… if you are pure of heart. If you have a righteous cause. If you just try hard enough. That bully, or that abuser, or that authoritarian tyrant will lose, because the bad guys always lose, right? As if the struggle were so simple. As if force, were not stronger than the force. As if special powers, could ever defeat power. Because that pen, is still sitting on the other side of the kitchen table. It won’t move. It never will.

And I wish I could say that this is the moment, when ten-year-old me learned that magic isn’t real. It would make for a better story. …But honestly, it took longer than that. It took study; and not just science, but history. It took showing up… to so many rallies, and marches, and meetings, developing power that wasn’t super but was still power. It took the biggest mass movement in the history of the world– and the failure of that movement. It took so many late nights, comforting friends, doing the work that no one will remember. It took mistakes. It took more mistakes. It took lives. It took, and took, and took.

And this was my disillusionment. Not a lightning strike: a slow flood. Figuring out, on some fundamental level, that things were not getting better, and that they weren’t going to.

Not on their own. Not easily. Not like magic.

This is my disillusionment. Not the absence of hope; the absence of illusion. The unsubtle art of getting your hands dirty, because we, do not have the luxury of waiting to be saved, we recognize no super power stronger, than solidarity, community, courage; we don’t have spells, but we do have songs. This alchemy of suffering, this transmutation of pain into progress. This hard-won knowledge: how a voice, does not have to move mountains, to move people. How it’s not about the source of the fire, it’s about how brightly it burns. How the magic is not whether I pick up that pen with my mind, or with my hand; the magic is what I write with it.

It is not destiny that we are all here right now. But we, are all here, right now. And even though there aren’t any monsters or demons outside that door, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t at war, that there are not forces, in this world, that would make dragons cower in their caves. And how it is up to us, who are not special, who are not chosen, but choose ourselves, and choose each other, who have nothing to offer but the thread binding our storybook bodies together, to keep fighting.

The spirits don’t talk to me. I talk to them, though. I tell them thank you, for your silence, for forcing me to pick up that pen myself. Thank you for never appearing in the mirror, so that I may see myself: the buried treasure in all this rubble, us, the magic still burning, when all faith has fled.