After taking a break from the media for several weeks to enjoy great spring weather, I picked up The New York Times last week to catch up on current events. Sadly, the news grows bleaker each day. Skyrocketing gasoline prices; more reports on global warming with no action on the horizon; the Taliban and al Qaeda flooding rural areas of southern Afghanistan with men and weapons; the U.S. Senate voting for $71 billion to fund the war in Iraq; and international tensions between the U.S, Iran and now Russia growing.
Does anyone care that our government is hobbled by greedy oil executives, a military industrial complex Dwight Eisenhower warned against, and fervid ideologues who use religion and patriotism to push America toward the brink of bankruptcy and the days of the Cold War?
Many people do care, but feel hopeless to make change and have grown complacent. We knew our voices fell on deaf ears in Washington, D.C., when we protested the buildup to war in Iraq and so we gave up.
Geov Parrish in Seattle Weekly contrasted anti-war marches in New York City in late April with the immigrant rallies of last month and May 1. He differentiated the marchers: one group-angry, leftist, marching to end the war, with a laundry list of complaints dilluting their cause; the other group-a tide of immigrants, marching with family and friends for their lives, proudly displaying the American flag, proclaiming their love for this country.
Marching for their lives. Perhaps if we viewed the actions of the Bush White House as having harsh long-term consequences on our lives, we'd demand wholesale change and become more involved in lobbying our representatives, submitting editorial letters to newspapers and even running for office.
Early next month I'll return to Cleveland to attend my 25th high school reunion. In the 1960s and '70s, my school committed itself to remaining in the city, serving the surrounding community and ensuring the recruitment of a diverse student body of young men. Led by the Jesuits, St. Ignatius' mission to educate "men for others" and to inculcate in them a sense of service to society had a lasting impact on my mind and psyche.
In college, inspired by a brilliant professor, I decided to major in political science. Dr. Barber challenged her student's assumptions and often intimidated the hell out of us. I learned alot about the American system of government, our important checks and balances and even studied constitutional law with the notion of attending law school.
Instead I moved to Seattle to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, sort of a domestic, Catholic version of John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps. I followed my interest in public service to the University of Washington School of Public Affairs.
Did you ever wonder if more of us took an interest in diplomacy rather than brute confrontation whether we'd be in the sorry state of world affairs we are now facing? Sometimes I regret not pursuing my interest in the foreign service. After Gorbachev's glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world seemed like a more hopeful, peaceful place. In the early '90s, we were lulled into a false sense of security as the first President Bush tried to decipher the transformation of the world's geopolitical map.
Three years spent working on Capitol Hill and in the federal bureaucracy from 1993-96 opened my idealistic eyes. I watched Clinton's health care reform effort collapse, the Republican takeover of Congress and the rise of Gingrich and DeLay. The bitter, vituperative nature of the place disheartened me. People could no longer work together for the common interest.
Recently I wrote about the play "Miss Witherspoon," which opened last week at ACT and explores questions of the afterlife and how our decisions have a cause and effect. The production explores the importance of finding similarities among tribes in the world, recognizing our common desires and seeking peace before we destroy ourselves and the planet.
So what am I doing to make a difference? Working in the theatre allows me to promote and support work I feel passionate about, that entertains and illuminates the complexity of human experience, and provides people the opportunity to explore thoughts and feelings they may not have considered. Like baseball, sometimes the story hits a homerun and sometimes it strikes out with the audience.
Since moving to the Northwest I've become aware of the need for more recycling and less consuming. I'm lucky enough to be able to bus, walk or ride a bike almost anywhere. My car use is minimal.
I'm involved in my community and volunteer on the board of an organization promoting the physical, spiritual and mental health of gay men. I try to preserve the quality of life in my neighborhood on Capitol Hill and stay engaged with the issues that impact it.
Thomas Friedman, the noted New York Times columnist, writes about the need for a foreign policy where the Middle East would no longer be our gas station. We would do better by the world and not make so many enemies. We would treat our environment better as a result. And we could stop colluding with dictators and corrupt oil chieftans who abuse their people.
I thought about my interest in politics recently when I received an e-mail invitation to Camp Wellstone, a political training happening in Seattle June 16-18. Named after Paul Wellstone, a maverick senator from Minnesota killed in a plane crash in 2002, who spoke out against the war, took many a principled position and cherished public service as an ultimately noble calling.
How does one stay honest and clean in this democracy of ours? Robert Kennedy spoke to the best instincts in people the day he announced Martin Luther King's death to an Indiana audience at a campaign stop in 1968. He didn't speak one way to blacks, another way to working class whites and a third way to establishment types. He spoke to their hearts, he spoke to their dreams, he spoke to the best and the most positive in America. We are in this together. It's not you vs. me. It's you and me, baby, together. Nearly 40 years later, people are still waiting to hear a voice, a leader, who unites us.
I'm not sure how many idealists I'll encounter during the reunion of the Class of 1981. But I hope some of these "men for others" are wrestling with long-thorny issues like energy independence and religion's role in goverment and looking for resolution rather than confrontation. Because I'm still challenged by the guiding principles the Jesuits taught about our responsiblity for each other and the planet. And perhaps if good, well-intentioned people grapple with the challenges ahead, we can take responsibility for creating "heaven on Earth" rather than awaiting some fabled rapture where we'll rise with the angels.
Let's discover those better angels within each one of us and make it happen now.
Jack Hilovsky's column appears in the second issue of each month. He can be reached at editor@capitolhill times.com.