To skip this introduction and go directly to the In-Depth Analysis, “Reinventing Democratic Culture: Then and Now,” click here.
It is odd in the extreme to read about a devastating storm in New York, listen to my local public radio station, WNYC, from Paris and Rome. It took a while to find out how my son in Washington D.C. and his wife, Lili, in Long Island City were doing. I also have been worried about my mother and sister and sisters-in-law, and their families, in their homes in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. All seems to be OK, with very significant inconvenience. My friends and neighbors, my house and my community center, these I don’t know about and am concerned. The Theodore Young Community Center, where I swim and where I have many dear friends, in fact, is still without its basketball court after the devastation of tropical storm Irene. All this while I have been enjoying my family just outside Paris, taking a beautiful stroll in Paris on Monday and having a nice first day in Rome. I hurt for my friends and family as I am enjoying European pleasures topped off yesterday with a wonderful dinner with my dear colleague, Professor Anna Lisa Tota of the University of Rome.
And I push on, talking about my work with colleagues and students first here in Italy and next week in Poland. This morning, I am off to give a lecture at the University of Rome to a group of film and media Ph.D. students, on media, the politics of small things and the reinvention of political culture. I decided to post today a lecture I gave in Gdansk last year which was a variation on the same theme: the project of reinventing democratic culture. The lecture highlights the links between my political engagements of the past and how they relate to the political challenges now. I will return to Warsaw and Gdansk with a follow up next week. In all the meetings and in the “in-depth post” . . .
Read more: Thinking About the Storm and Political Culture: An Introduction to my Solidarity Lecture
A Paper Prepared for Presentation for The European Solidarity Center, Gdansk University, Gdansk, Poland, October 6, 2011
It’s good to be back in Gdansk. It is especially good to be invited by The European Solidarity Center to give this lecture at the All About Freedom Festival. It’s a visit I’ve long wanted to make, and an occasion that seems to be particularly appropriate.
The last time I was here was in 1985. I was on a mission in support of Solidarity, to observe the trial of Adam Michnik, Bogdan Lis and Wladyslaw Frasyniuk. Adam had written an open letter to “people of good will” in the West to come to the trial, published in The New York Times. He also earlier through The Times Warsaw correspondent, our mutual friend, the late Michael Kaufman, asked me personally to come. It was a request I couldn’t refuse.
When I arrived I was under constant surveillance. I was denounced by Trybuna Ludu [the Communist Party official organ] for not understanding the nature of socialist justice, when I tried but was refused entry into the courtroom. It wasn’t a leisurely visit. I communicated with Adam through his lawyers. We planned together a strategy to keep going an international seminar on democracy we had been working on before his arrest. He asked for books. I did not have the occasion to go sightseeing. And the sights to be seen weren’t as beautiful as they are today.
That was one of the most dramatic times of my life. Not frightening for me personally (I knew that the worst that was likely to happen to me was that I would be expelled from the country), but very frightening for those on trial, and for the mostly unrecognized heroes of the Solidarity movement, the workers, the union leaders, the intellectuals and lawyers who during my visit helped me move through the city and make my appearance, and who risked imprisonment for their everyday actions in making Solidarity. While I then met Lech Walesa, as well as Father Jankowski [a Priest associated with Lech Walesa, who after the changes became infamous for his anti-Semitism], I was most impressed by those who acted off the center stage. They were . . .
Read more: Reinventing Democratic Culture: Then and Now
I am on the road from Gdansk. It’s been an intense few days. Last Tuesday, I joined the Occupy Wall Street demonstration for a bit. By Wednesday, I was in the Gdansk shipyards, where Solidarity confronted the Party State in 1980, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Soviet Empire. I was interviewed for the Solidarity Video Archive, giving my account of the work I did with Solidarity and my understanding of the great labor movement. Immediately after which, I was taken to Gdansk University, where I gave my talk, this year’s Solidarity Lecture, “Reinventing Democratic Culture.” It opened the All About Freedom Festival. Over the weekend, I visited my family in Paris, and now I am flying over the Atlantic on my delayed flight to Newark, hoping I will get back to New York in time to teach my 4:00 class, The Politics of Everyday Life. It has been a packed week.
Unpacking my thoughts is a challenge. A new social movement is developing in the U.S., with potentially great impact. In Poland, a new generation is confronting the Solidarity legacy, trying to appreciate the accomplishments, while also needing to address new problems. Yesterday’s elections in France and especially in Poland were important. Yet, just as important for what was not on the ballot as for what was. Everywhere, there seems to be a political – society agitation and disconnect, with the politics of small things potentially contributing to a necessary reinvention of democratic culture.
I have many thoughts and will need more time to put them into a clear perspective. Here, just a start. I have a sense that things are connected: not falling apart, rather, coming together.
In the U.S., the central ideal of equality has been compromised in the last thirty years. From being a country with more equal . . .
Read more: Things Come Together: Occupy Wall Street, Solidarity, Elections and Khodorkovsky