Guest Blogger and CoreAlign Generative Fellow: Poonam Dreyfus-Pai :: Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about cynicism. With all the legislative restrictions happening in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and c…
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had “politics” (in the most general sense, nothing deep) in the back of my head a lot. I know very little, to be honest, about how elections work - and I’ve never held much water in their ability to impact significant, positive, change (unless it’s, say, a first-election-ever, or first-election-after war — but even in these cases, the election seemed to be a signal, more than anything else). So it’s been tough to get really excited about the elections here: analyzing who is standing (in terms of identity), looking at data, and learning about how poll-related violence is going have kept me, at the least, minimally engaged. But I wasn’t feeling very invested. I still don’t know that I am.
But after telling L that politics sucks, and I want no part in the government (in response to one of her frequent reminders to go do just this), I came across this:
“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.” ― Bertolt Brecht
And it chastened me a little, even though I certainly haven’t boycotted political events, or acted as though they were insignificant. But I still wasn’t feeling it, in terms of positive change.
And then I came across this post by Poonam (whom I know from the AVC and college); it’s linked to the title up top. I loved this piece, because while Poonam is responding to a different situation/set of issues, it resonated so deeply in terms of what is happening in Nepal, and how people tend to respond to it. Some of the most rad women I know here are, I think, living this - recognizing that what is pretty much sucks, but it isn’t what can be. And that what can be depends on us, working through and past frustration.
Link here to one actually not-sexist piece on the Vote for Women rally yesterday in Khula Manch. There was a piece in Republica, too, that had an appalling first paragraph, and then improved.
This morning, I was having a conversation with the youngest Mama, in very vague terms, about why I am so frustrated by hospitals and health infrastructure here. I wanted thoughts on how, as a doctor and medical educator/professor, would suggest thinking about and addressing the issue. He kept saying that at the end of the day, it’s not about the doctor - or even the administrator. That the person on top, in government, sets the tone and policies that will determine a doctor’s behaviours. And that those people, you can only change by exercising your voice through elections. That until people at the top are behaving as they should, you won’t see the changes you need at the level of the ward.
It was depressing because of the chain of power, and the multiple stages of intervention this would require. I wanted a quicker fix, and wasn’t convinced that the relationship between policies and physician/surgeon behaviour are so closely connected. In a general way, I could see why what he was saying could hold. But in terms of graduating classes of doctors - especially junior doctors who have homes in Kathmandu and don’t need to worry about money in quite the same way - I thought (and think) there had to be other approaches, that they need to recognize what’s wrong with their behavior, too, and work to change it. But this sort of systemic change work, Mama kept saying, take a tremendous amount of time. And one keeps going because of the small victories, recognizing that it’s all part of a much bigger process than may be completed, even, in one’s own lifetime.
Even as I thought about process, and this great piece from Feministing (that I can’t find right now), I still felt rather disillusioned. But then I considered what he was saying within a different context. Because last night, our conversation was about aiming for the top of the hedge - about having a goal that is ambitious, and not being afraid to compete. While perhaps these two conversations - and Poonam’s energizing writing - weren’t necessarily meant to come together, they have done. Being involved in any type of social change work means recognizing, from deep within, that you’re in it for the long haul.There won’t be answers and quick-and-lasting fixes today, or even necessarily tomorrow. It’s not just one ‘sector’, or group, that can create the type of change(s) we need. But it certainly involves the political process. And it definitely requires engaging.