“One of the good things about everything being so fucked up-about the culture being so ubiquitously destructive-is that no matter where you look-no matter what your gifts, no matter where your heart lies-there’s good and desperately important work to be done.” — Derrick Jensen
In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed and both Northerners and Southerners were now legally required to turn in runaway slaves. One year later, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin (or Life Among the Lowly) as a serial in an antislavery paper, The National Era. In 1852, the Boston publishing company Jewett published it as a book and, as they are wont to say, the rest is history.
Widely considered to be the first social protest novel published in the United States (and the first major novel to have a black hero), Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold more copies-with the exception of The Bible-than any book had ever sold in America until that point with sales reaching 300,000 copies in the first year.
Stowe’s graphic depiction of slave life-based on true stories-personalized the issue, reclaiming it from the sanitized domain of courtroom legalese. Her story outraged some and inspired many others. To her critics, she answered with A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853 to provide documentation that every incident in her book had actually happened. Upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, Abraham Lincoln remarked: “So you’re the little woman that wrote the book that made this great war.”
There was a time when slavery was believed too deeply entrenched in American culture to ever be abolished. The movement to end this “peculiar institution” was made up of individuals willing to recognize that some things in life are bigger than any of us. Whether they literally risked their lives by rescuing slaves and running the Underground Railroad or they did their part by sewing clothes or blankets for escaped slaves or, yes, writing books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the movement needed every single one of these brave humans doing their part-small or large.
What seems impossible and irreversible today can be addressed if we’re willing to wake up and do the hard work. If we’re willing to stop making excuses for the reprehensible leaders (sic)-both political and corporate-who profit from our complacency.
So, the next time you’re deciding between watching a Will & Grace re-run or updating your Facebook book, step up instead. Take a good, long look into heart and an even longer look at the choices you make all day, every day-not from place of guilt and shame but with a sense of revelation. Accept the challenge to be a better human being, a more responsible earthling. It takes courage to perform self-examination. It takes courage to accept everything you know just might be wrong. It takes far more courage to do this than to volunteer to wage illegal and immoral wars.
Let’s face it: Things sucked under George W. Bush. Things will suck under Barack Obama. Things have sucked under every president. Nothing will change until we change our minds. We can’t be as indifferent as those before us. They didn’t think enough about future generations so now we have to work twice as hard. It sucks, I know, but this not an issue of fairness. It’s about survival.
Some things in life are bigger than any of us. The anti-slavery movement recognized this. Today, the entire planet is enslaved…to profit-seeking corporations and the corrupt politicians they own (yes, including the Pope of Hope). Are this generation’s abolitionists ready to step up and create change? Not ask for change, create change.
Why not embrace your outrage and frustration and let it challenge you, inspire you, and motivate you? Instead of channeling your ambitions toward climbing a mountain, running a marathon, or striving to make your first million before you’re 30, what greater goal could any of us ever aim for than to leave the planet much better off than how we found it?
You have nothing to lose but your chains…