I was on the Red Line here in Boston, going to Cambridge to attend a concert in Paine Hall at Harvard. My husband was playing the harp in the orchestra. The train was crowded because it was rush hour—six o’clock—and when I pushed onto the car and grabbed a strap, there was still a stream of people coming onto the car from the next door down. Just before the door closed, a few more people pushed into the car and stood next to me. I glanced at them, and then I saw a man two people from me. He was Tim DeChristopher, about whom I have written here. He is the environmental activist who disrupted the auction of federal oil lands in Utah and who went to federal prison for two years. He had said, in his sentencing statement, “This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this [i.e. my going to prison] is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.”
The car was too crowded for me to move, and I didn’t feel I could speak to him over the heads and shoulders of the several people between us. And yet, I knew he might get off, and I would lose this opportunity to speak to a man I very much admired. I was also thinking that every person who gets on a subway train deserves—and has a right—to be left alone.
Finally I spoke. “Tim?” His head jerked around to look for the source of the voice. It was apparent that he really was Tim DeChristopher. He looked exactly like the pictures of him on the DVD “Bidder 70.” He located me and smiled. I smiled. Then I said, “Thank you.” He grinned and shrugged, and that was all of it. The car was too crowded for anything more. He got off at Harvard Square and went up the Church Street exit, and I went up the main exit into Harvard Square.
Tim DeChristopher had found a way to act in our culture, when action by single people is rare, and most civil action has been taken over by professionals and large organizations. Tim DeChristopher had the courage to accept the culture’s punishment for his civil disobedience and has been able to turn it to his own advancement with his sentencing statement and then has been able to use it in political organizing since that time once he was released.
Tonight, I finished supper and sat down to the computer to begin work on this posting when I found that HBO was showing Angels in America: the Millennium Begins and Peristroika, and, before I could turn off the tube I was sucked into the tragedy of Prior and Louis. The cat came in and lay beside me, his head resting on my thigh. I ended up watching the whole drama, finished after one, this whole stupendous work by Tony Kushner, ending with Prior’s famous words, The Great Work Begins.
This is hard for many of us, because the “great work” that Prior calls for—the work which will bring full citizenship to gay people, the work of renewal, of living fully, of loving ourselves and others, of “more life” as Prior puts it—seems largely to be over for many people. We don’t fear the deaths of all of us from AIDS, and the struggle for our rights has been co-opted by mainstream America. Even our opposition seems to be giving up. Cardinal Dolan said on Sixty Minutes yesterday, that the forces for same-sex marriage seem to have won.
The Great Work Begins. Work means Life, and that’s what Prior wanted. More Life. But what does this mean? A person can write a check or put a gift on a credit card, but there is not much one can do comparable to disrupting a federal auction of oil rich land. Or is it that we haven’t thought creatively enough about this new phase of our lives? Exactly what can each one of us do to make life better for all of us? Tim DeChristopher found it. Lt Choi found a way to do it, which only he could do—he chained himself to the White House fence, and then did it over and over and over again until DADT was repealed. Well, then, what for the rest of us?