Ain't That Good News
By Maya Dexter

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall.

Think of it. Always.
-- Mahatma Gandhi

Whether you pay attention to the news or try to avoid it, you can't help but be all too aware of the relentless soul-grinding siege of tragedies and crises being machine-gunned at us on a daily basis, perforating our spirits like so many sieves until all the joy drains out like pasta water, and we are left feeling rubbery, dry and guilty for whatever scrap of slippery goodness we manage to maintain.

America is not a pleasant place to live right now, though I'm sure it's not half as painful as the lucky places we've "gifted with democracy," or have our eye on further on down our list of who's naughty and nice.

Despite the palpable collective relief the recent US elections have brought us, most people don't seem to trust the slim new Democratic majority to have the cojones to stop rolling over to the transparent and logic-defying propaganda of the Conservative bullies controlling the agenda.

It's no wonder.

Up until the elections, there was so much despondency and ennui here; so much of a sense of people giving up hope that one barely dares to trust in change. Our constitution has been trampled, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in our name and with our tax dollars, and anything that even remotely bore the sweet, sweaty scent of liberalism was practically labeled treason. Of course there is still a large part of the country in denial (there were a lot of close elections), still suckling at the infant formula teat of Fox News, ignoring the warnings rising around them and gurgling "things like that can't possibly happen here -- this is America!"

Except it seems, though some may try to ignore the mounting similarities between the president and a certain mustachioed German guy, that they can.

Most folks paying even a shred of attention feel that we are deep in the mire of some sort of modern Dark Age. We probably are, though I suspect it's made to look far worse in light of the media's S&M fetish for tragic and gory stories. If what we feed our attention to truly becomes our reality, then we have become trapped in a particularly dizzying downward spiral. Good news is considered filler, if it makes it to the copy desk at all. We are all aware of our culture taking steps backward, but you gotta be willing to dig pretty hard in order to find the steps forward as well. But they are there. No, really, they are.

The news that was good this year was not just good; it was writhing-on-the-floor-speaking-in-tongues miraculous. One cannot help, when confronted with what good can come from the hearts of men, but feel hope; to feel that although we are facing a collective dark night of the soul, we will deepen and grow through it, rather than bring ourselves irretrievably over the event horizon of collective destruction.

Like any story written toward the end of the year, most of the good news I remember has happened in the last few months. January seems long ago now, both to me and to the media archives. I'll undoubtedly leave plenty of stories out. I look forward to hearing about them, and perhaps Eric will allow me to make updates to this article in order to include them.

The Truth Will Out

2006 was a year of truth, of getting past the propaganda and finding the news we didn't want to hear. Yes, yes, I hear you saying, "But all the truth that came out was bad news!" Remember that denial gets us nowhere, and in fact keeps us stuck in a swampy mire with no way out (see "Iraq"). When we have the truth, we can decide what to do about it. No matter how harsh, how brutal, how spirit-shrivellingly horrid the truth may be, it's always better than the alternative. That's why I call the unleashing of truth "good news."

The greatest news here in the US (and for anyone else who is disenchanted with the politics of our current president) is that this year fewer people than ever bought into our government's particular line of bullshit. George Bush's popularity took a long, hard, slow-motion fall, bottoming out below 30 percent approval in May, and only recovering slightly since. Of course, he looks like the prodigal son compared to Congress' approval ratings. Hallelujah, people are ready for change!

And they made it. People turned out in force to eject the ruling Republican Party, especially young people, who have rarely bothered in the past. Conservatives picked up no new seats in Congress or Senate, but lost them in droves. Finally, "anything but more of the same" was platform enough. Will it be enough to reverse the despair wrought on us all? Time will tell. But at least now there's a chance at something different.

The months leading up to the elections were especially enjoyable, as reporters began to wake up and remember that they actually do have a job to do, and while regurgitating press releases from the White House may be easier, it makes them feel sort of itchy after awhile. The recent increase in tough questions being posed to Bush and other members of the government can only be called good news, no matter how skeptical you might be, if for no other reason than that it's fun to watch them respond. Will they continue to return to actual journalism? Again, time will tell.

In another score for truth, moms took a stand when ABC prepared to air the propaganda docu-drama, The Path to 9/11, with American school textbook maker and children's fiction publisher Scholastic producing "educational materials" about this outrageous fiction to give to schools in order to teach children the lies asserted in the television program as though they were historical fact. A nation of parents called their school boards and asked them to keep politics out of their children's classrooms. Scholastic received enough pressure from individual school districts to drop support for the program, sparing our children, and reminding the propaganda machine that a quiet but powerful group of decision makers is paying attention.

In the larger world, India banned the employment of children under the age of 14 this year. Although this does nothing to help the abject poverty that pushes families to send their young children to work, it is an important attempt to protect a very vulnerable sector of India's population. The subject of child labor desperately needs to be on the table, and I commend India for putting it out there.

In April, leaders in Africa launched a campaign to send every child to school by 2015. Britain took up the cause, pledging $15 billion in aid, and of course the rock star statesmen of Live 8, who rocked our world in exchange for money for Africa, ponied up for the cause as well.

Tony Blair, America's favorite poodle, announced he would step down within a year, much to the enormous relief of the entire country of Britain, which, if I understand correctly, has a conscience and is not afraid to use it.

If you're still not convinced about this whole the-unmitigated-truth-is-a-good-thing idea, remember what a relief it was to watch An Inconvenient Truth. Sure, it was tragic and heartbreaking, but there it was in plain English, and now that we know, we can do something about it rather than wasting any more precious time on unnecessary debate.

Virgin Atlantic CEO, Richard Branson, was so moved that he's pledged all of his company's future profits (that's billions) to researching renewable energy. Sure, I know we don't all have such deep pockets, but I don't know a single person who didn't step shivering out of the over-air-conditioned theater into the triple-digit heat this summer pondering what they could do. Without a doubt, if we all do something, it's certainly better than nothing. I don't doubt the planet's future is faring better now than it was in June.

In addition to Global Warming, we were enlightened by such truth-revealing documentaries as Who Killed the Electric Car?, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, and the most gut-wrenching and (in my humble opinion) important movie of 2006, Iraq For Sale, which catalogues both the nauseating profits and the gross negligence of independent contractors in America's first outsourced war.

For more brilliant documentaries, along with great interviews and other goodies, visit here.

"...Cooperation of Everyone..." Tuan Nguyen, 2005 at the "CHALK 4PEACE" Sidewalk Chalk Contest,
Dr. MLK Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, DC.

Give Peace a Chance

Speaking of war, in 2006 the world held more peace marches, rallies, vigils, and performances than I can possibly list here. The largest was likely the global day of action on March 18, but there were hundreds of events worldwide between March 15 and 21, marking the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and dozens of other events throughout the year. I was especially moved by the hunger strike by the Archbishop of York, in solidarity with those suffering in the Middle East.

In addition to the traditional modes of peace activism, there's been a notable injection of fun to the peace movement as of late. In recent years we've seen such delightfully playful peace events as Chalk for Peace (which is exactly what it sounds like), Baring Witness (naked people making giant peace signs and such), and the extremely well-reported Global Orgasm Day (also exactly what it sounds like). It's not that candlelight vigils and demonstrations aren't nice, but human nature dictates that people are more likely to participate when it's creative, silly or just plain fun.

Perhaps most importantly, we saw a shift in language from "Anti-War" to "Pro-Peace." It's as though we all suddenly realized that by framing the discussion with war, we continued to feed that reality. When we frame it as a discussion about peace, we are growing into something new rather than running from something which will continue to pursue us like one of those giant hairy nightmare spiders as long as we run. It may be basic new-age physics, but we finally seem to be realizing that it just might work, as polls show a continuing decline in support for war in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran or any other place for that matter.

Free Hugs

The hug movement is one of my personal favorites. It seems to have been popularized by the press and several YouTube videos of a guy in Australia holding a sign reading "free hugs" and the uncomfortable but ultimately warm response of random strangers to this sort of extraordinary intrusion on the generally cherished boundaries concerning strangers and intimacy. Since then, this radical act of random hugging has been spontaneously duplicated by individuals worldwide.

My own first encounter with the free hug idea was in Montreal in September 2005, where the dapper and ginormous-hearted Hugger Busker was sharing hugs on Place Jacques Cartier and gave me perhaps the most expert, most deliciously heartfelt hug of my entire life. Since then, I've been sent half a dozen YouTube videos of the Australian hugger and other huggers around the world, and a recent article showed a hugger in my own local Philadelphia, a.k.a. "the city of brotherly shove."

Hugging the masses used to be the trademark of gurus like Amma. Now we have average people sharing genuine non-attached affection with strangers. We are changing.

Isn't this more fun than buying the world a Coke?

To Forgive Is Divine

In asking friends and families about good news stories, invariably the first recommendation I get is the profound story of the Amish families of the schoolgirls who were killed this fall in Pennsylvania. I don't know of a single person who didn't have their hearts and minds flayed wide open in awe of these people's unhesitating forgiveness, and their openness toward the family of John Roberts, the man who killed the girls. The Amish are not a public people, though they submitted themselves to press interviews, in order to help heal those who watched the news in horror. They attended Roberts' funeral, and though they don't generally accept outside support, they have opted to accept donations with the understanding that it helps heal the larger community, but only with the contingency that people must also offer support to Roberts' widow. They've since torn down the schoolhouse where it all took place, because they don't want to create a monument to violence. They want to accept God's will and move on.

Most of us cannot fathom this level of forgiveness, though there isn't a religion in the world that doesn't recommend it. We are far more comfortable with cowboy vigilantism, seeking revenge for what we perceive to be insurmountable damage. We're much more comfortable with faith and compassion as abstract ideals than as living practice. To live them in one's darkest hour is so inconceivable and touching a sight that we all stopped and watched in awe for those few days (a long time in our short attention span news world), and came away wondering about our own capacity for forgiveness.

Higher Ground

So it wasn't such a great year for Israel and Lebanon, or for America and…well…anyone, but there were countries this year who were willing to get past their long-standing differences, if even for a moment.

Despite being generally kinda creepy about this whole nuclear thing to the point of political leprosy, back in August North Korea was offered $230 million in aid for flood and disaster relief from neighboring South Korea, who'd forsworn any sort of aid to their northern brethren, at least until their leader's rectal craniotomy procedure had been declared successful. But in the end, vulnerable humanity wins out over political machinations when your neighbors are struggling to deal with nearly 60,000 people dead or missing in floods, and the survivors starving to death. Way to go, South Korea!

In March, India offered a "treaty of peace" to Pakistan, in further attempts to normalize relations between the two neighbors who have been duking it out in one way or another for over sixty years. Gosh, wouldn't that be nice?

Celebrity Giving

Who says celebrities are completely useless? They can draw attention to a cause, get it funded and make doing so fashionable like nobody else. Though sometimes one feels as though there is more publicity than heart in their motivation, the fact remains that the large sums and cachet they donate to any cause can only benefit it.

Some truly do seem deeply concerned with helping. Oprah Winfrey, queen of American talk shows and avid supporter of all manners of growth, awareness and compassion, said it most gracefully in a June 23, 2006 article in USA Today, "To whom much is given, much is expected…you can't live in the world, participate in all of the benefits of the world, and not give back. It goes against the law of physics. If you don't give back, then what you have will be diminished." From amazing stories of personal triumph to countless acts of charity, from bringing taboo subjects into the light to giving her viewers the tools to empower themselves, I don't have room to catalogue all the cool stuff Oprah does. Housewife staple or no, she deserves a Nobel Peace Prize or something.

In addition to Oprah and Richard Branson, this year saw history's largest single donation as Warren Buffett gave 10 million Berkshire Hathaway shares valued at approximately $31 billion to the Gates Foundation, to reduce global poverty and improve health in impoverished countries. For reference, that's the approximate GDP of Cambodia, and a higher GDP than over 200 countries.

American political gadfly and notable conservative-turned-liberal Ariana Huffington gave women a whole book, On Becoming Fearless, which essentially deconstructs the idea that there is an indelible separation between women and power. For those of us who might be a little uncertain about the whole idea, she offers plenty of encouragement at her website. Ariana reminded us all that being fearless is not an absence of fear, but the mastery of it. Right when we needed it, too.

Countless other celebrities did many other wonderful things for Katrina victims, various African nations and conflicts, adopted kids, and generally looked fabulous doing so. Except maybe Warren Buffett, but I'll bet his spirit shines like gold.

Science Finds God

Isn't it just adorable when science finally figures out something that average people have known, like, forever?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered this year that magic mushrooms give users a lasting sense of spiritual wellbeing.

Researchers at Washington University found that prayer actually does speed healing.

More research is done every year to find out why our brains need spirituality. Is science any closer to finding the ghost in the machine? Probably not, but it's sweet of them to keep looking.

Green Momentum

It was a good year to be green. In addition to the great wake-up call of An Inconvenient Truth, there were quite a few other green breakthroughs.

Perhaps the most astonishing (and most confusing) of the bunch was discount department giant Wal-Mart's large scale rollout of organic goods. Not that that cancels out their weird religious-based inventory censorship, their use of sweatshops in US territories in East Asia (Made in the USA!), their abominable treatment of employees (aren't we done with serfdom yet?), but hey, it's a step in the right direction. Oh, and that $4 flat-rate generic prescription drug program was surprisingly good, too, but wrong category. For those of you who have managed to evade their toxic global death grip thus far, and so haven't a merciful clue what I'm saying, read up at Wiki and be warned.

Okay, so sometimes it takes a little extra effort to find the good. Moving on…

Our pals over in scientific research, when not taking mushrooms and talking to God, helped us figure out that fish is good for you (even though it's polluted by the toxins in water), grass-fed beef really is more nutritious than grain-fed factory beef, and you can actually tell the difference in a lab between regular milk and organic milk. That's right, sustainable agriculture is not only better for the planet, it's better for us.

In January, California declared second hand smoke a toxic air-pollutant. Across America, cities and states attempted to catch up with California by banning smoking in public places. The UK, France, Germany and Australia have all committed to various levels of smoking bans in 2007, as have several Canadian provinces. It seems likely we'll see more of the world coming out against smoking in years to come. Aside from all that lifesaving stuff, it's sure nice to be able to go into a bar again and destroy my liver without coughing up a lung.

In America, SUVs are crowded on the lower-tier used car lots, being sold for ridiculously low prices, as most folks have traded to something more fuel-efficient, often one of the dozens of new hybrid vehicles on the market. Have we started biking more, or taking more public transportation, or -- god forbid -- walking? Well, not so much. But again, it's a start.

Small Victories

Then there are the joyful triumphs which will never make headlines. Things like making breakthroughs in therapy; finding deep and meaningful love, or conversely having the courage to leave an oppressive life in favor of more vital experiences; choosing self-care over habitual self-destruction; or (I promised I'd mention it) my stroke client who moved her thumb for the first time in three years. All of these things feed a matrix of joy and hope that weaves through and around us all and gives us strength to keep going; to hold firm and weather the storm no matter how close to the point of breaking we fear we might be coming.

In the end, hope is always, always, always stronger than fear. It may not always seem so, but it is patient and persistent like water grinding a stone to sand. Though fear may seem solid beyond reckoning, it never stands a chance as long as hope is present. Now more than ever we need to remember this and seek hope, or create it where we find none. May your 2007 be filled with good news.

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Planet Waves 2007 Almanac

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