It might be the fact that I’ve got the Hamilton Broadway recording on repeat inside my head. I blame Joey and Rosie who started listening in December. It was strange, as Joey’s not a musical fan and Rosie doesn’t tend to hold on to things this tight, but but mid-December it was all Hamilton all the time with only a few little breaks for the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. (If you haven’t heard it, it’s worth seeking out- I’d start here and then listen all the way through once you’re hooked.)
Whatever it is, I’m thinking about activism again.
Hamilton has inspired a frenzy that points to something positive: that revolution is sexy and exciting and possible. And if a Broadway original cast recording is the way your average 16-year old gets inspired about this, then I’m all for it. We could all use a little inspiration. But I keep coming back to this bridge between entertainment and action.
I was resistant to Hamilton at first. But then I started thinking about the early US documents for the first time in so long. I had studied them in college, and in the years after when the girls were babies and I taught classes for homeschoolers out of my living room, my favorite class ended up being something that I called “The Constitution and Current Events”. Each class we read some part of the constitution, or one of the Federalist papers. Then we’d look at the news and talk about how founding ideals were playing out. I had a smart group of teenagers and they had insights into those founding documents I’d never had. So Hamilton got me started in that direction again. But then, because we had our heads stuck in that time period, Joey and I re-watched John Adams, which is worth it for many reasons, the largest of which is the single scene between King George and John Adams after the war. Then we wanted more, MORE, and we searched Netflix and found Turn, which was different, good, and based in the experience not of the founders, but of people just living in the country during the time of its birth.
I’ve always loved US history because the connections between every moment are so clear. When I was in school, there was a building in Santa Fe that had the phrase “Past is prologue” engraved above the door, and it always seemed vague and pretentious to me until I realized it was the shortest way to explain the circle of history, that although people (and history teachers) often invoke the idea that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” (mostly the quote of the essayist George Santayana), I think more likely that we’re not doomed to anything; we play out the same stories again and again. The same themes run through our societies and our private lives, and they are so central that we must revisit them again and again. Especially if we look at US history, I think Americans are Americans in 1800, 1900, or 2000, and the ideas of independence and freewill within the structure of a government that is simultaneously fixed and fluid have always challenged both the leaders and the citizens. It might be the King, or it might be Wall Street or income inequality or for some the great specter of big government itself, but it seems we’re always trying to gain independence from something in this country. And in that process there’s always this question of action. The founders themselves seemed to know they were creating a system that by its very framework would require cycles of revolution. Thomas Jefferson especially advised against holding future generations to a firm constitution. “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy,” he says, “as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” I’m not sure they shaped this democracy to the greatest advantage of its future citizens. I’m not sure they didn’t doom us to be divided and to argue for centuries to come. But maybe at the time the freedom to argue was the thing that was most fighting for? I’m not sure it’s served us well.
Last night I stayed up late to watch the democratic debate. I was impressed. Bernie Sanders called for REVOLUTION! and I think he pushed Hillary Clinton to be more honest in the process. I think the Democratic side is really talking right now, and I’ll miss this primary season when it dissolves into an angry race between parties.
But I’m afraid of the general will to be entertained. We watch our history on HBO and get our news from reality TV. And all this entertainment gets us somewhere–we think just a little bit, make conclusions, reflect on our own roles as citizens. We might even sit on this side of our screens and sign petitions, click boxes for emails. But I think that falls under the entertainment umbrella too. I wonder how much that experience of being entertained stands in the place of being active. And now, in this new world, how do we do it? How do we take all this entertainment use it to act?
Just thoughts, all thoughts–maybe more fitting than food on this day of the great activist doctor. But I’d love to hear how you’re doing with all this tumult of world these days. How are you feeling about the election? Are you finding ways to participate? Or keeping the action kitchen based? This is always such a thoughtful community- I’d love to talk a bit about where we’re at.
And later in the week- more food, I promise.