The Optimism of Uncertainty By Howard Zinn September 30, 2004


In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident, not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played.

The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of Russia, in that most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd.

Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II–the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German Army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the postwar world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, the tumultuous and violent Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making overtures to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone.

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be created in the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialism of Nyerere’s Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin’s adjacent Uganda. Spain became an astonishment. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism being overthrown without another bloody war.

But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists, everyone.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political power. Yet they were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence.

The failure of the Soviet Union to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most striking evidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does not guarantee domination over a determined population.

The United States has faced the same reality. It waged a full-scale war in lndochina, conducting the most brutal bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. In the headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over the presumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots movement of workers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fight destructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalogue of huge surprises, it’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it.

That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience–whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is just.

I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests.

Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds, thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know of one another’s existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain.

I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the very people who are disheartened by the absence of a national movement are themselves proof of the potential for such a movement.

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.

If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.




Stand Against Racism Stand Against Every Oppression

Trump won’t stop Americans hitting the Paris climate targets. Here’s how we do it: Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of NYC.

From The Guardian:

“Forget the White House, a new coalition of cities, businesses and universities are taking a lead role in fighting climate change…

[not to mention the enormous upswell of citizens, gardeners, bee keepers, renewable energy inventors, fighters for environmental justice, recyclers, bikers, mass transit users, large and small non-profits such as Green Map System/Sierra Club/Green Guerrilla’s and governmental groups such as GreenThumb – too many to name!!!]

Last week, the Trump administration formally notified the UN of its intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement. It was an empty gesture, because no party can actually withdraw until November 2020 (right after the next US presidential election). What matters is this: the US is on pace to reach the commitment we made under the agreement – and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us…

That progress has happened because cities, states, business and citizens all recognize the health and economic benefits of action. And they are not slowing down now. In fact, the biggest impact of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement has been to accelerate those efforts and improve public understanding of their central role in fighting climate change…

climate change has always been driven from the bottom up

The benefits of action – and the risks of inaction – are too great.”

A Mayor of Salt Lake City Finds Out What It’s Like to be Homeless and How Ideas to End Homelessness

Return the Stanton Building to the public for use as a homeless outreach site as well as an emergency resiliency hub and center for education on climate change: a community space and after school learning center – SDR Coalition

Homelessness was reduced by 90% by the Mayor of Salt Lake City.

How? For one thing – coordination and cooperation between City agencies. Also a singular commitment from providers, house homeless less costly than leaving vulnerable on the street. Humanized and individual outreach played a huge part in making this work. “The homeless need human trust and interaction with outreach to make any inroads to get them into housing or shelter – not to keep herding them from one area to another”

How Salt Lake City Effectively Dealt With Homelessness: Video here.

Daily Kos: Salt Lake’s Dem Mayor Goes Undercover As A Homeless Man For Three Days. Pledges Vital Assistance.

“Last March, Democratic Mayor Ben McAdams put into play something he long felt compelled to do. Due to a state law, he had to select possible sites for three new homeless centers/shelters. Two for men and one for women and children. Regardless of the choices, it would prove highly unpopular in the neighborhoods. Each perspective area arose in fury at the idea. But it had to be done. He needed a more personal perspective. And it was this catalyst that solidified his decision….

The first night, they slept in the street. They found a spot amongst hundreds in the area against a building. They wrapped themselves with their tarps.

“I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “I absolutely did not feel safe. It was a very chaotic environment. I wanted to understand why some people would choose not to go into shelter. It was cold. Below 40’s. And it was raining. You wonder why people would choose to do that, knowing that there were beds available in the shelter.” Fights broke out and there was yelling all night.

After a fitful 4 hours of sleep, they headed to the shelter, named The Road Home. The closer they got to the shelter, the more drug dealers plied their wares…mostly heroin, meth, coke and spice. 

 “The primary buyers are not homeless people. If you take the hundreds of people who are staying at the shelter and empty all of their pockets, there’s not going to be a whole lot of money to buy drugs.”

As bad as the night on the street was, the shelter was a nightmare. It housed over 1000 men. Though rules are in place, and employees and volunteers were present, it was riddled with violence and drugs. Reimherr was assigned a different dorm. McAdams’s bunkmate injected a needle into his arm in front of him. He saw similar in the dorm. The smell of the drugs was prevalent. He witnessed violence. He saw a man pulled from his bunk and heard the loud smack as his head hit the pavement.

The first thing he was told when he entered was to not take off your shoes, use your bag as your pillow and never, ever go to use the bathroom at night.

He now saw why being outside in the rain and cold was preferable…

His time was consumed by solving two pressing needs. “Where am I going to sleep? And where am I going to get food? You have to plan your day around that. It leaves little energy left to search for jobs or housing.”

He met a family with a nine year old autistic child.  “She’s the age of one of my kids,” the mayor said. “It’s heartbreaking to see a young child who’s growing up in those circumstances. What psychological trauma is probably inflicted on a child who doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep or where his next meal is going to come from?”

McAdams ended his experience with one understanding. That “doing nothing is not an option, even if it’s the end of me politically.”

…If I have to pay a personal price for moving this work forward, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.”

 ”I ran for office to make a difference. Not to have a job.”

…He vows to assist in every aspect of “the shelter experience” into one “focused on rehabilitation and recovery.”

In the meantime, The Road Home is having the area in front on Rio Grande Street made into a courtyard with a fence to help protect the homeless from predatory behavior. That meals will be nutritious with more fruits and vegetables. And he is trying to work out a deal for the local area’s state-run liquor store to move to a different location, away from it’s proximity to the shelter.

“I know that my three days and two nights is nothing. It was a helpful insight. But i knew that if something happened, i have health insurance. I have a family. I have a home. My backstop was a phone call away. I am very, very fortunate.”

Salt Lake, both the county and city, have been models for helping the homeless, compared to most other large cities and counties in the country. Mayor McAdams aims to raise the bar that much higher. In his years at the helm, he has already done so much to tackle this problem. Starting with having local law enforcement not unduly harass the homeless, but to help and assist. This has been something he has been passionate about since he became mayor in 2013. And it’s making a tangible difference.


A public info session with Q and A


Date/Time: August 15, 2017 | 6:30 pm

Location: East Village Community School at 610 East 12th Street

(between Avenues B and C)


Description: Join senior officials and experts from the Health, Sanitation, Parks Departments and

NYCHA to learn about:

• New state of the art trash cans in your community

• New investments in NYCHA developments to prevent rats

• More frequent trash pickup

• Better Waste Management Practices for Landlords or Enforcement of rat-related

violations by landlords


Co-sponsored by: Borough President Gale A. Brewer, U.S. Representative Carolyn B.

Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assembly Member

Brian Kavanagh, Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou, Council Member Rosie Mendez,

Council Member Margaret S. Chin, and Community Board 3.

Sobering Climate Change Data

Questions and Answers on Rat Reduction

From Caroline Bragdon: Director of Neighborhood Interventions NYC DOHMH (better known as the Rat Lady)!

Volunteers from MUFG and Citizen’s for NYC Tackle Gardens in Sara Roosevelt Park

College students interning with MUSG Bank joined Citizens for NYC‘s Andrew, Chris and Luz along with Bob, K and Rob from the SDR Coalition for a morning of clean up in front of Kim Fong’s BRC.

For more photos at Citizen’s for NYC Facebook page here!


Thank you to all for the infusion of labor. It makes a huge difference!

Team leader Shawntee and her crew:   Bernadette, Edita, Farid, Gabriel, Jamil, Lauren, Matthew, Mayank, Miriam, Neyshmarie, Rajiv, Renyi, Tiffany and Krystal


Council Member Chin Invites You to Lower Manhattan Community Day This Saturday

Call 311 To Get Help For the Homeless. Call 911 To Get Help in An Emergency.

Reminders from CB3 Office:

Please always call 311 for homeless issues and ask for homeless outreach. (this triggers Goddard Homeless Outreach who should arrive within an hour. They will begin Case Management if one isn’t already started for an individual.

Once you get your complaint number from the 311 operator, let the CB 3 Office know. They will track it and keep records and liaise with the pertinent Agency or Organization.

Community Board 3, Manhattan
59 East 4th Street
New York, NY  10003
Phone: 212-533-5300

For crises or issues where someone is endangered or a danger to self, please call 911 immediately.