- The Solace of Resonance
Like so many others I have been out campaigning for John Kerry in northern New Jersey, my old haunts when I worked as a union organizer. I haven't campaigned for a president since George McGovern. As I write we are weeks away from the election, but this is not a "musing" about electoral politics and what role they should play in the Left. It is instead about loneliness. It's about loneliness and the perils that come with isolation. I have been deeply struck and moved by the loneliness of the women with whom I have met in the course of campaigning for Kerry. My main weakness as a campaigner is that I am supposed to spend twenty minutes at a house, and two hours is my average.
Marilyn, who gave me permission to tell her story, lost people close to her in the war on Iraq. And then on top of everything else her husband died from a heart attack six months ago. Her husband's wrongful death was unnecessary, as he was caught in the gap between the cancellation of his insurance policy when he was laid off and before receiving much-needed access to Medicare. She described her experience running up and down the hospital halls begging for help, and yet no one would help her. The words she used to describe those desperate hours revealed how alone she felt. She blamed that sense of aloneness on an uncaring and immoral world. That kind of loneliness in which you are shouting for help and in which no one is listening led her to feel so vulnerable that she felt only a strong leader (George W. Bush) could help rejuvenate the moral fiber of this country.
It has become commonplace now to speak of Bush, Cheney, and their cohorts as engaging in the politics of the "big lie," to use Hannah Arendt's telling phrase. But what is less discussed is why the politics of the "big lie" is so effective. For it is the bigness of the lie, the promise of a completely new world, that makes the lie so effective in a country such as ours, where almost all social services are in shambles and we are riddled with terrifying visions of the future. My example of Marilyn shouting and pleading for help may seem extreme. I use it to mark the failure of her words to resonate with anyone who might have heard them. I use the word resonate in Gaytri Spivak's sense of what calls us back to deeper bonds. Neither Spivak nor I want to use the notion of 'sisterhood' [End Page 215] or any other kinship words to evoke the need we have (and here I include the academic feminists that read this journal) to feel a resonance between us as we write, think, and march in the streets.
One of the perils of loneliness is that our words will not be heard, and that can lead us into all sorts of defensive responses, a defensiveness that undermines a commitment to democracy. Certainly many of us who opposed the war in Afghanistan found ourselves attacked, sometimes by those we thought to be our friends. And it was hard, at least for this writer here, certainly in those months after 9/11, to not feel isolated in the academy. In the fall of 2002 Ann Snitow and I called for a meeting at Judson Church to convene a new group we called Take Back the Future, one of the many groups that helped to form United for Peace and Justice.Since the formation of that group we have been out in the streets constantly, most recently when Bush and company were in New York City for the Republican National Convention. But our group also has another purpose. We often gather not only to discuss events but also to support ourselves with the resonance that we gave each other in some of the most terrible moments we have had to endure in the last few years. We were together, for instance, on that fateful night when Bush expedited the war in Iraq and rained...