Note: This is an essay I wrote shortly after 2008’s Red Wings Stanley Cup victory. I’ve reposted it here with minor edits. It was originally posted to MRZine.
I’ve come to the startling realization that few people outside of Detroit and Canada know or care about hockey [i]. 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.
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 co-worker told me. He was a 20-year old serving in Romania’s army when his country’s 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 Detroit area needed something to be happy about. Detroit is one of the cities hardest hit by the capitalist crisis, only adding to the city’s already impoverished economy. A news article recently mentioned that the Red Wings’ 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.
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 rain that poured down on us starting at the beginning of the third period of overtime. Only something special can make people act like this. Some friends of mine later told me that when they saw all the commotion they felt upset. “This is so stupid,” they said, “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 [ii], 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 pompous, 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 sporting events instead of social movement than we need to ask ourselves why we’re not getting that kind of support, and change our practice.
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 masses of people (and ourselves) that social revolution is possible with their participation.
To keep going through the long season a winning team keep their eyes on their final goal and sees their objective as something long-term. Building a new world is an infinitely complex and protracted task so to build and sustain our momentum we find markers for our progress along the way. However, social revolutionaries understand that each “goal” scored (reforms and other victories) is the product of the struggle to win that final objective, not the struggle for the intermediate skirmishes themselves.
A winning team has the coordination and the skills to be a winning team. 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, however, so asking these questions becomes everybody’s responsibility. Are we building the skills we need within our movements and organizations? Radicalizing more people and raising consciousness? Building more militancy and sustaining involvement?
The Left has won before. We’ve ended wars, won the right to organize unions, women’s suffrage, and civil rights. Strong activists always believed in our movement’s potential for success. I couldn’t believe in Pavel Datsyuk [iii] 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 intercommunalist. A world that is peaceful and sustainable. We can win it!
[i]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.
[ii] Granting it immediate importance.
[iii] See Wikipedia. Search for Hero.