I had the privilege of interviewing candidates for Polaris Project’s fellowship program last week, and an applicant told me that she wanted to work on “an issue bigger than politics.” That sounds simple, and it is. I still agree with Roy Cohn as imagined in Angels in America. He says that politics is “the game of being alive.” That’s true for people and that’s true for organizations.
I like politics, I enjoy the thrash and give and throw of it. I enjoy the high drama and the hard work which it takes to build a consensus and get slow change–because slow change is lasting change. But working at Polaris Project, it’s like how Joe from Angels in America describes being a Mormon:
“You have to reconcile yourself to the world’s unperfectibility by being thoroughly in the world but not of it.”
I am not yet reconciled to the idea that the world is imperfectible, but am thinking hard about the idea of being thoroughly in the world but not of it. Being at Polaris Project, I feel like I’m in DC, in national politics, but not of it.
“Night flight to San Francisco. Chase the moon across America. God! It’s been years since I was on a plane. When we hit 35,000 feet we’ll have reached the tropopause, the great belt of calm air. As close as I’ll ever get to the ozone. I dreamed we were there. The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air and attained the outer rim, the ozone which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening. But I saw something only I could see because of my astonishing ability to see such things. Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead of people who’d perished from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles and formed a web, a great net of souls. And the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.”–Harper from Angels in America