by Michael Dougherty
My father once told me in a rain-worn Irish pub: “If there’s a roadblock, climb over it.” I once crawled through a construction pit that broke up a Los Angeles sidewalk because I was going to be late for a movie. I lost my shoe, too. So, my dad was preaching to the choir. I am reminded of it, though, as the Sochi Winter Games are underway and there are more than a few hundred athletes who face similar roadblocks. The tenacious ones understand already some variation of my father’s advice, but Russia poses interesting challenges because it has had to revamp its infrastructure to accommodate these athletes for the very first time on home soil.
The callous might believe that not enough has been done. The language difference can be troublesome. The elevators don’t work properly. Ramps are hard to find. Certainly, the desire to see Russia fail, an odd facet of human nature within popular culture, colors the expectations that followed them into the opening ceremonies last week.
I don’t think this is a mistake and it has to do with all these volunteers offering their time and space to us. That the volunteers are young people, mostly college age, means a great deal, even if it’s hard to articulate now. The Russian government has made some abhorrent political decisions that show them as bullying rather than powerful. The pernicious cloud of disability maltreatment hangs over the Sochi Paralympics and the Russian people. The next generation of Russian citizens, though, hold the power to keep changing their country and its attitudes. Enough of them together could shift the cultural tide toward a more inclusive and humanistic one, devoid of ancient prejudices, possessed of a new compassion. A government is only as good as its people will allow it and the old regime, even the current one, stands on shaky ground because myopia and fear-mongering hold back progress. Yet, these everyday youth clearly have it in them to seize back the political soul of their nation by not collaborating with oppression and keeping their hands reaching out to those in need. As Tony Kushner wrote in “Angels in America”: “And only in politics does the miraculous occur.” There is a miracle here waiting for the future, a new Perestroika for the disenfranchised.