Here are a few short texts and films that have helped me to ponder the meaning of hope…
Got 5-15 minutes?
Children of 1966 talk about the future
Some children in the UK were asked in 1966 what they thought the year 2000 would be like. They’re hardly representative (!) but their thoughtful predictions seem to have been well ahead of the adult generation of the time. From the BBC Tomorrow’s World archive.
Gary Younge: ‘In these bleak times, imagine a world where you can thrive’
Gary Younge’s valedictory article as a regular Guardian columnist, on what his mum taught him about hope.
Alice Walker: ‘Hope is a woman who has lost her fear’
Alice Walker’s poem was written in response to the US administration of G W Bush during the Iraq war.
Atiaf Alwazir: ‘The other side of Yemen’s war’
Yemeni activist Atiaf Alwazir on how Yemenis’ determination to live in the face of war changed her understanding of hope:
‘I [now] try to show stories of resilience, because as much as we need to talk about the war machine and the arms trade and war crimes, we must also counterbalance that with stories of how people survive when all hell breaks loose. We need to tell all the stories of war… We need to tell the stories of ordinary people doing ordinary yet extraordinary things because they are the ones truly building peace.’
- Video (15 min)
Kimberly Jones: ‘You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets’
Kimberly Jones, co-author of I’m not dying with you tonight, on what it means to struggle against centuries of racist economic oppression in America.
- Video (7 min)
Joanna Macy: ‘Climate crisis as a spiritual path’
If the title suggests that JM ‘spiritualises’ the ecological crisis, don’t be put off – this is a politically charged appeal to pay attention to the life of which we are part:
‘The greatest gift we can give our world is our full presence… You don’t have time to decide whether you’re hopeful or hopeless… we’ve just got a job to do… We don’t know whether the great unravelling or the great turning is going to be the end of the story, but I know where I want to get behind, and I know [where] the people that I love and link arms with get behind…’
- Video (20 min)
Cornel West: ‘Hope is spiritual armour against modern society’s spiritual warfare’
Cornel West raps on hope in the face of a consumer-capitalist culture of deceit, despair, and ‘weapons of mass distraction’.
- Video (11 min)
Gary Younge: ‘Black Lives Matter and the question of violence’
The journalist talks about hope, violence, and Black liberation – cuttingly radical, deeply humane, and extraordinarily lucid. ‘History… bends towards justice, but it doesn’t bend by itself, it’s for us to put our shoulder to it and make it bend towards justice.’
Note: At the time of writing, the YouTube clip has been ‘flagged as inappropriate’ by [possibly racist sections of] the YouTube community – please ignore the warning and judge for yourself!
- Video (11 min)
We do what we can
‘Whatever is coming is coming, let it come, I will face it … You will not find hope lying down.’
This simple, short film by Kwaku Awuku-Asabre imagines the hopes of a young couple recently arrived in the UK. Watch for free as part of the British Film Institute’s Black eyes, Black lives series.
Got half an hour or so?
Kaethe Weingarten: ‘Hope in a time of global despair’
This paper from 2006, by Kaethe Weingarten, presents an outline for ‘realistic hope’, as distinct from immature or magical hope. It emphasises the importance of fellowship and resisting indifference, and argues that realistic hope has to accept that the world is a messy place.
Arathi Sriprakash: ‘White optimism and the erasures of racism in global development’
In this lecture from 2019, Arathi Sriprakash argues forcefully that the ‘white optimism’ that characterises international development organisations is experienced as a colonial project by its supposed beneficiaries – as an unwanted imposition. The talk somewhat conflates hope with optimism, but I found it very useful indeed on the need to ‘decolonise’ hope.
Vaclav Havel: ‘The power of the powerless’
This landmark essay from Vaclav Havel in 1979, predicting the end of the Soviet dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, changed the consciousness of a generation. This is a slightly abridged version.
Arundhati Roy: ‘Come September’
Arundhati Roy’s truth-telling lecture given in the wake of the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington – her theme the ‘relationship between power and powerlessless’.
Ruha Benjamin: ‘The mourning after – A dreamer’s guide to staying woke’
Ruha Benjamin’s keynote address to Princeton University’s 2017 African American Studies conference points to hope determined by the quality of our dreams (and even our sleep). We need to be able to dream a future richer than the present, which itself is based not on a dream at all, but a violent fantasy. ‘We also express a shamelessly stubborn joy, even as we mourn, and I think we really have to fight against the pressure to censor joy.’
- Video (40 min)
Rebecca Solnit interview
‘We don’t know that forces are at work… you don’t always win but if you try you don’t always lose.’ Rebecca Solnit, activist and writer, interviewed by Krista Tippett.
- Audio (30 min)
And if you’ve a spare hour you’d like to spend well, try…
Deeyah Khan on understanding hate
For her pioneering documentary films, Deeyah Khan has sat down with white supremacists, Islamist extremists, and others who have made a mission of violence, to learn how the world seems from where they stand. In this podcast she talks to Compassion in Politics about her experiences, her plea for a shift in social attitudes to marginalised groups, and grounds for hope. Well worth the hour’s listen.
- Podcast (1 hr)
Jocelyn Pook: Drawing life – Remembering Terezin
Suzy Klein invites Jocelyn Pook to take us through her exceptional creative response to the tragedy and hope that co-existed in the concentration camp in Bohemia. The music and visuals rise from children’s poems and drawings, and the testimonies of those who survived – a deeply moving, challenging, ultimately inspiring experience. Please watch.
- Video (1 hr)