Protest, Hope and Power: Brief Thoughts on Keeping Our Eyes on the Push for Progress

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” — Frederick Douglass

“Hope just means another world might be possible, not promise, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

I love the NBA. I love people. I love people who create positive change. I am political. I am also a fan who wants to watch the playoffs. This post is a reflection on what that means in this current moment.

The NBA is political. People are political because the political is the human. Political systems and ideas are embedded in everything. We don’t often see them, which allows them to both manipulate us and be manipulated.

It has taken a president who denies democracy and democratic values and a pandemic that has wiped away our norms and expectations to see just how vulnerable we are all as people, and how vulnerable our democracy and its functioning institutions are.

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George Hill of the Bucks helped lead the NBA toward striking on Wednesday, August 27th, 2020.

We are at a strange crossroads, involving a threatened presidential election, an ongoing worldwide pandemic, fires and floods typical of late summer in the U.S. (worsening every year due to climate crisis), and the momentum of protest to demonstrate our collective anger and frustration with the ongoing injustices we see.

And then we have our entertainments. The ways in which we’ve grown accustomed to distancing ourselves from the chaos of the world or from the stresses of our jobs, or from the weight of the human condition in general. We’ve always needed ways to decompress, but the options and the binge-habits of our entertainments have changed our entertainment habits. We have so many options from movies to television, from restaurants to live events (remember those?) live sports, music and theater, our ways of using our leisure time have been adjusting over the last six months of our home-bound lives.

Over the last decade, I’ve always binged the NBA Playoffs. The time from mid-April through late May was a time I indulged in my NBA obsession. I cannot help but feel the pull of fandom because basketball is what helped get me through my worst moments and helped free me from pressures and expectations.

Through the day-to-day goings on of the playoffs, with so many games and so many story lines..it all makes for great drama. I watch coaches in post-game press conferences. I make predictions. I listen to podcasts. It is an all-encompassing thing. It is it’s own universe. I connect and share with friends and family. I am part of something larger than myself. We all have our religions. Most Americans today choose these things in place of religion.

But what spirituality, at its most basic and best can bring — -a sense of connection, quietude, introspection, belonging, and inner peace — is not the same as what sports fandom or television fandom offer.

When the dust settles, we are still who we are, in all the mixed-up glory of the messy human mind and spirit. We long to feel something. Cheering for something makes us feel something. Protesting in a group of people makes us feel something. Fighting for possibilities makes us feel something. It’s all the same at the root. We refuse to be numb. We stand for something.

So..in this basic sense…it’s critically important that the sports world…which was paused for several months…and which has haphazardly and oddly returned…then pause again…to force us to reflect on what it is we are cheering for and who the players on the court/field actually are. The human element of it all. The thing that is entirely lost in the rankings and stats and social media hoopla of the sports and entertainment universe the Internet has created.

Most NBA players want more from our broken democracy, because most of them grew up within this racist society as victims of the oppression that are now made visible by these viral videos of oppression and state-sanctioned brutality and murder. Families and communities directly threatened by police violence, mass incarceration and voter suppression.

We are not just fans. Though we want entertainment and distraction and a break from the grind of daily life…we are people, watching gifted athletes…who are indeed people…who indeed carry the weight of childhood on their adult (many players are young men in their twenties) shoulders..and who are working to build a safer and healthier place for their own children and communities…just as we all should work for.

As Solnit writes, “Hope calls for action.” Maintaining hope means fighting off the cynicism that surrounds us, and the apathy that seeps into us. We’re stuck inside. We have been for months. Feeling numb, powerless, scared, and uncertain as to how or when the virus will end, how the economy will or won’t recover, and what kind of government we will be left with in 2021 and beyond. Taking action is daunting. First steps lead to second steps.

We must keep pushing for change…in small ways and large collectivist movements. Donate your time as well as your money. Search for causes that you commit to for life, not for 5 minutes on social media. Be patient and persistent. Listen.

Check out Frederick Douglass. Check out Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. Check out Isabel Wilkerson and Bryan Stevenson. Check out podcasts like The Ezra Klein Show and New Yorker Radio Hour that keep you informed and deepen your thoughts and awareness. Read Jonathan Abrams. Read Howard Bryant. Sometimes entertainment, passion and political involvement are one in the same. Do not simply check out.

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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