I’ve come to the startling realization that few people outside of Detroit and Canada know or care about hockey.2 So I would understand if you didn’t know about Detroit’s recent return to glory as the National Hockey League champion. So let me fill you in for a moment on what it was like after we won.
I haven’t seen people so happy in all my life. The streets of Detroit were filled to the brim with cars, motorcycles, and people parading, throwing their hands in the air, cheering, holding up issues of the next day’s paper reading “Champs!” It reminded me of something a friend told me. He’s a Romanian guy who was 20 when the country’s communist dictator was overthrown. “There is nothing in the world like a revolution,” he said to me, “the people are just so happy.”
The victory was warmly welcomed here. Many people here in the city’s metro area needed something to be happy about. Detroit is one of the cities hardest hit by the nation’s economic downturn, only adding to the city’s already poor reputation. A news article recently mentioned that the Red Wing’s success is offering some small bit of hope during the hard times. While many regard us as “America’s punch-line,” we can find pride in our ability to nail anybody on the ice rink.
In the second to last game of the playoffs, my friends and I ran downtown to celebrate what we thought would be our inevitable victory. The hundreds that we joined shared that sentiment of inevitability. “I know the Wings are going to win,” said one fan as we entered into the third period of overtime, “but will they just get this over with already?”
We stood outside, exhausted, nerve-wracked, and soaked from the near torrent of rain falling down on us in the final period. People rarely act like this. It’s not often that hundreds of people get together to put our passion and energy into something. Some friends of mine later told me that when they saw all the commotion they felt upset. “This is so stupid,” they told me, “I know it’s fun and all, but these people are putting so much into something that isn’t really important.” But it is important. Aside from the fact that it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs,3 the game is giving people hope.
Looking at crowds of excited and impassioned people and saying, “No, this is wrong, they’re not caring about the right thing,” is not only alienating, but it’s missing the point entirely. The people on the streets wanted the championship and they believed that we would win it. Thousands of people turned out to support them. If we’re frustrated that people turn out to support sports teams instead of our movement, then we need to ask ourselves why we’re not getting that kind of support.
Most people desire a more peaceful world, one that is more equitable and just — just like most folks in Detroit who want their hockey team to win the league championship. Who wouldn’t want that? But people know that the Red Wings can win. Our challenge comes in convincing massive numbers of people (and ourselves) that change is possible with their participation. A team that win believe they can win. They take their goals seriously and go into action to meet them.
To keep going through the long season, a winning team keep their eyes on the prize and sees their mission as something long-term. Our mission is harder than winning a championship (imagine if all we had to do was beat the jerks in a hockey game!). Building a new world is an infinitely complex task, so, to build and sustain our momentum, we find markers for our progress. Rather than celebrating momentary skirmishes, a winning team in social change looks toward the movement.
A coach or captain of a team asks, “Okay, are we passing better than before? Are we shooting better? Are we playing better defense?” We’re a part of a movement that rejects that kind of hierarchy, so asking these questions becomes everybody’s responsibility. Are we building our skills? Radicalizing more people? Building more militancy? Are we sustaining involvement? Winning teams know that the stronger they get, the more likely they are to win what they’re after.
The Left has won before when it knew that it could. We’ve ended wars, won the right to organize unions, women’s suffrage, and civil rights. The draft ended for a reason.
Strong activists always believed in our movement’s potential for success. Can you imagine if the people you look back on for inspiration believed that we couldn’t win? It’s ludicrous, right? I couldn’t believe in Pavel Datsyuk4 saying he didn’t believe that the Wings could win.
Our movement has so much to offer. We offer a world that is classless and democratic. A world that is feminist and inclusive of people from all backgrounds and cultures. A world that is peaceful and sustainable. We can win it!
1 A hockey team from Detroit.
2 I’ve been informed recently that Boston also likes Hockey. For those who don’t know, hockey is a game played on ice with sticks and is considered by many to be a sport.
3 Granting it immediate importance.
4 See Wikipedia. Search for Hero.
Aaron Petkov currently lives in Detroit where he studies History and Peace & Conflict Studies at Wayne State University. He is a member of Students for a Democratic Society and the Student Environmental Action Coalition and he would love to play hockey with you. You can find him on Facebook.