“To create is to resist. To resist is to create.”
Stéphane Hessel (1917-2013)

I learned this morning of the passing of Stéphane Hessel, World War II French Resistance fighter who authored Indignez-Vous! (Time for Outrage!), a manifesto to outraged, to act in face of often overwhelming injustices.

Hessel was interviewed by Democracy Now! (aired October 10, 2011) on Time for Outrage! and Occupy Wall Street:

Hessel, like other public intellectuals of his generation, gave voice to a sense of hope rooted in the horrific experiences of war and its aftermath. His writing, as well as the trajectory of his life embodied a sense of urgency to action in light of global crisis, be it war, attacks on human rights, man-made ecological disaster.

The standard by which we judge what is social responsibility is lowering. Social services, such as Medicare and social security benefits, should not be framed as “entitlements.” As Hessel so eloquently states, we all do better when we chose as societies to protect the rights of minorities, provide basic social and health services for everyone, when we think about economic development in terms of long-term environmental sustainability.

For me, Hessel’s call to outrage resonated with my experiences organizing during what is now known by activists as the “WIsconsin Uprising” (see here for my thoughts on this experience). While I had not yet read Hessel’s work in February of 2011, I felt compelled act in the face of cuts to funding for public education and labor rights. We’ve had a lot of setbacks in Wisconsin in the last two years but I continue to be hopeful.

It is all to easy to be immobilized into inaction by the sheer amount of problems in the world, especially at the slow pace of enacting change and in the face of failure. His reminder that we are all “interconnected” and to refuse to accept the (new) status quo is one that we must carry on.

Really his message is simple and therein lies it brilliance. The capacity to be outraged makes us human. As he writes:

“We are interconnected in ways we never were before, but some things in this world are unacceptable. To see this, you have only to open your eyes. It tell the young: Just look, and you’ll find something. The worst possible outlook is indifference that says, ‘I can’t do anything about it, I’ll get by.’ Behaving like that deprives you of one of the essentials of being human: the capacity and the freedom to feel outraged.” (Hessel, Time for Outrage!, p. 26).

There are so many things at which to continue to be outraged. RIght here at home in Wisconsin, just yesterday the State Senate passed legislation to relax environmental regulations for the mining sector over the objections of the Bad River Tribe and environmentalists. The debate needs to be about what is good for everyone, not the interests of an out-of-state corporation.

But there are also some many things to be hopeful about. While in Wisconsin we are going backwards in terms of supporting public education (even the proposed increase in this year’s state budget does not make up for the cuts in the 2011-2013 biannual budget), protecting the environment and an inclusive dialogue about the direction of our state, there is progress. For example, a couple of things that inspire me are the campaign by Walmart workers for higher wages and the advancement of marriage equality for gay and lesbian individuals during the 2012 elections.

For all of this and more we must carry on Hessel’s outrage in the pursuit of a more just society.