VPR Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Weis: The Power Of Hope



(Host) As we anticipate Martin Luther King Day and President Obama's second inaugural address, environmental educator and commentator Russ Weis is thinking about the power of hope, and how it relates to the future of our planet.

(Weis) Now that the winter solstice is behind us, and the sun is slowly expanding its daily trek across the sky, I find myself feeling just a little bit - well - hopeful.

Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we're about to celebrate once again, had this to say on the subject: We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. And President Obama, author of The Audacity of Hope, famously made hope a theme of his first campaign.

The president re-embraced this optimistic emotion in his victory speech last November, proclaiming at one point, I've never been more hopeful about our future... And I'd be surprised if hope doesn't also reappear somewhere in the president's upcoming second inaugural address.

It was Alexander Pope who penned the oft-quoted line, Hope springs eternal in the human breast. And especially during this time of returning daylight I'm reminded of how energy sources like solar offer distinct rays of hope for a sustainable future.

It's also hopeful that the VT legislature is making climate change a focus of its attention this session - right up there with education reform.

And I see other good reasons for hope in various citizen activism efforts in our state - like the Vermont Rights of Nature campaign, which seeks to grant legal rights to Nature itself.

In response to the Citizen's United ruling that gave corporations the same rights as people, activists have proposed an amendment to our state's constitution that would guarantee the rights of Vermont's forests, waterways, and wildlife to exist, thrive and evolve. Not meant to prohibit hunting or logging, the amendment simply hopes to ensure the ongoing integrity of our state's precious natural resources. So far an article supporting it is on the ballot for Strafford's town meeting, with advocates crafting similar ones for other towns.

There's also the recent campaign, launched by VT-based 350.org, aimed at getting colleges to divest endowment monies from fossil fuel companies. The tactic worked well back in the 80s when investments were redirected away from South Africa - a factor in the collapse of that country's apartheid system of racial segregation. I spent a night in jail back then, due to my own participation in a peaceful protest against apartheid. I'd been inspired by Reverend King's everlasting faith in the power of citizen action to produce positive change in the world.

Of course, hope alone is not enough. Too many recent tragic events, whether induced by our feverish climate or, most recently, by fevers of the mind, underscore that fact. But there again, the great civil rights leader offers encouragement. In a compilation of his speeches called A Testament of Hope, he is compelling on the power of community.

Which brings me to a final thought: one of King's major intellectual influences was theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote, Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope... Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.