Paul Loeb

The Impossible Will Take a Little While

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The Impossible Will Take a Little While Summary

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Borrowing a phrase from a Billie Holliday song for its title, the anthology The Impossible Will Take a Little While hopes to, in the words of its subtitle, offer Perseverance and Hope in Troubled Times. Edited by Paul Rogat Loeb and first published in 2004, this comprehensive and seminal collection of essays was updated and republished in 2014. The collection of forty-nine essays is subdivided into nine thematic categories, but the overall thrust of the book’s message is that hope, courage, and action in the face of injustice, cruelty, and overwhelming odds is possible and necessary.

The essays address a variety of David versus Goliath situations in the words of people – famous and less so – who have attempted to change the world around them despite the seeming impossibility of changing large and inflexible systems like South African apartheid, Mississippi segregation, Middle East dictatorships, or the corporations driving global climate change. Loeb provides introductions to each of the book’s nine sections, prefacing the inspiring though realistic words of his contributors with his own personal reflections.

The writings collected are varied, including luminaries such as Maya Angelou, Diane Ackerman, Marian Wright Edelman, Seamus Heaney, Audre Lorde, Nelson Mandela, Bill McKibben, Pablo Neruda, Dan Savage, Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, and Martin Luther King, Jr. What follows in this summary is a brief look at some of the lesser known among the forty-nine pieces.

In “The Black Hole,” Ariel Dorfman describes surviving Augusto Pinochet’s deadly 1973 coup in Chile. She chooses to become someone who will not allow this atrocity to disappear into the “black hole of memory,” continuing to tell the story of what happened.

Mary Pipher’s “Reluctant Activists” chronicles the remarkable story of how broad-based local citizen opposition arose to the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska – a movement that was partly responsible for terminating this project.

Tony Kushner, in “Despair is a Lie We Tell Ourselves,” writes about the need to act rather than surrender, since “what’s much more likely to get us, if we are got, is our present condition of living in a world run by miscreants while the people of the world either have no access to power or have access but have forgotten how to get it and why it is important to have it.”

Veteran activist Jim Hightower’s exhortation, “Rebellion is What Built America,” asks us to forgo complaints in favor of action because pessimism is the enemy of fighting for a better tomorrow. As he puts it, “The important thing to know is that you are wanted. You are needed. You are important. You are not only what democracy counts on, you are what democracy is.”

Also included is Arundhati Roy’s “Come September,” a Lannan Foundation Lecture in which Roy poetically castigates the War on Terror, globalization, the misuses of nationalism, and the growing chasm between the rich and poor.

In “Prisoners of Hope,” Cornell West contrasts hope with optimism: “Optimism adopts the role of the spectator who surveys the evidence in order to infer that things are going to get better…. Hope enacts the stance of the participant who actively struggles against the evidence in order to change the deadly tides of wealth inequality, group xenophobia, and personal despair.”

Indiana disability rights activist Danusha Goska, who lives with a paralyzing physical disability, reflects on her work with the Peace Corps and Mother Teresa.

Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, contributes “An Orientation of the Heart,” which finds moral and philosophical value in the obviously doomed actions of resistance undertaken by those oppressed.

Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim writes about “We Are All Khaled Said,” the Facebook page he created to call attention to the death of a man in Egyptian police custody. The page’s virality reflected the growing discontent of the Egyptian people and became one of the first signs of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

Paul Hawken’s speech to the graduating class of 2009 from the University of Portland, “You Are Brilliant and the Earth Is Hiring,” calls on its audience to appreciate the universal beauty of the earth in order to find the courage to work on its behalf.

In “Gate A-4,” Naomi Shihab Nye describes helping a woman who didn’t speak English in an airport to make a larger point about the necessity of intervening to help those who are struggling.

Palmer Parker’s story “There is a Season” explains the way life is full of changes and transitions through the metaphor of the seasons and their cyclical nature.

The nonviolence activist Walter Wink describes his research into the connection between the Bible and nonviolent resistance in “Jesus and Alinsky.” Going back to the original text, Wink finds that “Do not resist an evildoer,” a passage often used to demand submission and complicity, instead originally read “do not use lethal violence on an evildoer.” Jesus wasn’t telling people to roll over, but instead was saying, “Don’t be a doormat. Resist violence, but not with retaliatory violence.”

Bill Moyer’s “The Progressive Story of America” finds progressive values in the Constitution, which stresses the need for government to be “promoting the general welfare.”

Convicted felon and author Billy Wayne Sinclair writes about coping with holding on to his sense of morality while serving his sentence to life without parole after accidentally killing a clerk during a robbery gone awry. When given the option to buy his way out of his prison in Angola, Sinclair chose to stay and, instead, document the prison’s abuses through journalism.

In “The Gruntwork of Peace,” Amos Oz describes the process by which a group of prominent Israeli leftists and Palestinian leaders (including Oz himself) spent two years in secret talks in order to arrive at a blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The historian Howard Zinn uses “The Optimism of Uncertainty” to argue 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.”