On Radical Hope: The Legacy of Leia

Lauren

via @MsPackyetti

“I choose the discipline of hope over the ease of cynicism.”

In the morning after the world learned of the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Brittany Packnett Cunningham tweeted out this incredible thread for the weary beginning with this line. Progressives across the U.S. were collectively in a state of despair over what this might mean for the future we want to see – a future where we are all free to choose how we live our lives, but also a future where we take care of each other. How far back will it set us if the Republican-led Senate is able to push through a nomination? Is there any coming back from that?

The next morning, I saw this tweet and it really hit me. Hope is a discipline. It’s something you must work for, even if at times it feels foolish to do so. Even if the thing you are hoping for feels impossible. Especially when the thing you are hoping for feels impossible.

Of course, this line of thought led me to my own personal Patron Saint of Hope, Leia Organa. Being a life-long Star Wars fan, my relationship to Leia is something that evolves just as I go through changes in my own life. That relationship took a new turn in 2017 when I attended the Women’s March in Los Angeles. It was an important moment for me in my political life. The streets of Downtown Los Angeles were packed with people who knew that the next 4 years would not be easy. It was an incredible sight to see, all the many creative signs and expressions – the very embodiment of taking your broken heart and making it into art. Among them, dozens of signs that used the imagery of Princess Leia as a symbol for Resistance. It hadn’t even been a month since her passing and it made it feel like she was there somehow, one-finger salute and all. I decided that day that I wouldn’t just go home and disconnect. The next four years would require everyone to do the work. As Leia showed us many times, hope is a decisive, concrete action.

Photo:  Lauren Salerno, Women’s March 2017, Downtown Los Angeles.

Leia loses everything. Her home planet is destroyed by the Empire, and with it, the people that she loves are gone. She sees friends fall in battle. She sees the suffering of families torn apart. She sees injustice everywhere coming from a government claiming to bring law and order, a government that actively sought to squash the hope of anyone who would dare oppose it. Leia never gives up though. She picks herself up and looks for the next best move because she believes with her entire being that a better galaxy is possible. Hope is an act of defiance.

Later on, even after the Empire is defeated, she lives to see the rise of the First Order and must put herself on the frontlines yet again to save democracy. Just as the Resistance’s forces are depleted in battle, we still get to see a moment between Rey and Leia where she passes on the idea of a radical hope that can carry you through the bleakest of hours when all seems lost. We have everything we need. 

2020 is an interesting year to find ourselves in such a heavy political battle. It happens to mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been diving into archives from that moment in time. I have found incredible pictures and poetry and oral histories from women who had nothing but hope to go on. Rebel women who knew that justice would swing in their favor if they just kept pushing. Hope is a personal commitment to a better future.

Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C. Miss Vivian Pierce of San Diego, California. 1917. [to 1919]
Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/mnwp000151/.

I found this amazing picture of a suffragette from San Diego named Vivian Pierce. If you’re a Star Wars fan, I think you see what I see. Vivian is standing in the street with a big banner that’s taller than she is. Her hair is styled into space buns about 60 years before Carrie Fisher came into our lives in A New Hope in the iconic hairstyle. This was enough to catch my eye, but then I focused in on her banner. It says, “Forward out of error, Leave behind the night, Forward through the darkness, Forward into light.” 

The banner reminded me of another Leia-ism that is told to us through Admiral Holdo. She says, “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.” Right now, as I get deeper into my activism with election day drawing nearer, I’m seeing a lot of anxiety and fear about what may happen come November 3rd. What if we don’t win? What if we do win? And with this anxiety, a paralysis is setting in with many who would like to disconnect because it is 100% overwhelming. And make no mistake, the entire point is to be overwhelming so that you lose the one thing that we all need to get through this.

It doesn’t matter how you find it within yourself. Just know that there are more of us. Just know that when you wake up every day and speak of light, it empowers others around you to do the same. Even if you’re afraid – like me – you have to actively exercise that part of your core that knows a better world is possible. It seems far, far away and the night is dark, but if we all make each next best move together, we can get there. And I think it’s important to note that if on November 4th, we wake up to find that we didn’t succeed, we have to get up and keep trying. Hope is a discipline and you are the spark. 

The clock is ticking down to Election Day and we want to be sure you are fully equipped to exercise your right to vote. For information on your ballot and to make a voting plan, visit: IWillVote.com

If you would like to get involved, these last few days before the election are a critical time for us to work together for a blue wave across the U.S. To find remote volunteer opportunities, visit: http://Mobilize.us.