OPINION: The Revolution Will Not Be Obvious

by Sarah Stuteville

I have always wanted to live through a revolution. As a little kid it was a precocious interest in politics, combined with a misplaced sense of adventure and filtered through a taste for adult dystopian novels. (Who lets a third grader read Stephen King’s “The Stand”?) As I grew up and became more radical, I idealistically imagined a revolution would infuse historical meaning into my own individual life and — bonus — further the collective liberation of humanity. This rosy-colored yearning for “Revolution” (with a capital “R”) is only possible from a position of stunning privilege — the kind that comes with unquestioned stability and the entitled belief that the arc of history and politics would forever be in my favor.

In my mid-twenties I started reporting from other countries — many that were recovering from, amid, or on the brink of great political upheaval. From the relative safety of my nationality (and often whiteness) I had to deeply reconsider the consequences of “revolution.” From Cambodia to the Former Soviet Union, from Pakistan to Syria and Iraq, I saw “revolution” weaponized against the vulnerable and grappled with the undeniable truth that political turmoil — the kind that collapses systems — often contracts, instead of expands, people’s freedom. But the colonialist gaze of international journalism comforted me with the idea that that sort of chaos doesn’t come for America. For all the things I wanted to change about this country, I could be assured that this country didn’t ever really change.

But of course, chaos lights and sets wherever the hell it wants to. And this country has been sowing the seeds of this discontent for centuries — in fact, the seed of this discontent was sown into the very soul of this country’s founding. And now we are the smoke-filled streets braved by a BBC reporter. We have our very own despot deploying racist militias on TV. Our own militarized police force ready to use tanks against protestors and shooting people of color in their homes. Now it’s our 200,000 dead of Covid-19 in under six months because we were finally overtaken by the tidal wave of corruption, greed, mismanagement, incompetence, cynicism, and cruelty that is late-stage American Capitalism. 

Sri Lankan writer Indi Samarajiva wrote about this tipping point with such clarity and candor it is still chilling me to my core a few weeks later. “This is how it happens. Precisely what you’re feeling now.” He writes, “The numbing litany of bad news. The ever rising outrages. People suffering, dying, and protesting all around you, while you think about dinner. If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down.”

After reading his words I saw everything differently. The blooming shrines to the dead, the political pamphlets scattered across my street, the teargas in the air, the thump of the helicopters, the election countdown, the families divided — that punch-drunk feeling of ricocheting from one catastrophe to another while trying to potty train a toddler, budget for groceries, and choose a Netflix show for the evening now made a new, wild sort of sense. We are up to our necks in revolution, while wringing our hands about when it might descend and what it will look like. My young revolutionary’s dream of a life lived alongside political intensity is realized — but in a shadow world where all the wrong people seem to be winning.   

But I am still my younger self who imagined endless possibility embedded in mayhem. I am still a young journalist who saw that revolution is often manipulated from the top down but can also quietly, powerfully grow from the bottom up. Kolkata sex workers unionizing themselves. A former child soldier in Cambodia who was demining the countryside with a stick and his foot. Ukrainian activists who protested topless to force the media and government of their country to pay attention to issues of sexual assault. Refugees of the Iraq war who squatted in one of Saddam Hussein’s former prisons and reclaimed it as their own housing development.

Their beauty, strength, courage, and creativity is all around us now. It is the Bernie Bros phone banking for Biden. The BLM protestors yelling the Bruce Lee quote “be like water” as we part and move around police brigades like one organism. It is the veto override that meant we won a 5% SPD budget cut — nowhere near enough, but proof that we can move a glacier if we put enough shoulders against it. It is my neighbors who a few weeks ago chased the cops off of 23rd Avenue by filming and harassing them as they attempted to pull over and question two young Black men (one who leaned out the window of his car to say “please don’t go, I’m afraid for my life right now”). After the crowd had grown to almost 25 people, phones lit blue in the night, the men were hastily dismissed and the police screeched away as we yelled “Get the hell out of our neighborhood” in the red glow of their tail lights. It is in our willingness to turn and squarely face this layered horror with all the humanity we can muster. 

It isn’t what we expected. It isn’t our design. It isn’t romantic and it isn’t fair. But The Revolution is here, and it’s up to us what we make of it.

Sarah Stuteville is a writer, memoirist, educator, and non-profit media consultant currently pursuing a Masters in Mental Health Counseling at Seattle University. She taught journalism and media production at the University of Washington. Feminism, journalism, motherhood, relationships, and mental health are subjects of Sarah’s writings. Sarah has reported from over a dozen countries in the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. She wrote a social justice issue column for the Seattle Times. Her memoir writing has been published in Mutha where her piece “No One Is Watching” was one of the most read on the site all year.  Her piece “Windstorm” won “Honorable Mention” in the Hunger Mountain Nonfiction Writing Contest; “A Girl’s History of Consent” was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Awards. She also helped to co-found The Seattle Globalist, a non-profit journalism organization that trains diverse media makers.

The featured image is attributed to Andrew Ratto and belongs to the public domain.

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