Another great essay over on Tom’s Dispatch: Rebecca Solnit reflects on what victory looks like in the real world:

Radicals often want a victory that is sudden, dramatic, and full of moral illumination, that belongs clearly to them and to them alone, the kind where the other side loudly repents and credits you with dramatically reversing their course, or better yet simply surrenders and leaves the arena. This is not even victory, but vindication …

Activists often have a real distaste for hailing anything that comes from those regarded as the enemy, and the distaste is understandable; but the refusal, or inability, to recognize the messy ways in which change for the better comes is another thing altogether. … You can always argue that what we need is systemic change and nothing less, but humanitarianism often means accepting lesser steps along the way, and sometimes those steps lead toward something more revolutionary.

… here’s the catch: it won’t look like victory. It won’t satisfy the way victory is supposed to satisfy. It will come in dribbles rather than in a glorious burst; it will arrive in the hands of those you loathe; it will appear in some unanticipated form hard to recognize. Changes come sneakily, like the thieves they are, stealing the familiar world. By the time you win, your victory no longer belongs to you; it belongs first to the annoying former adversaries who have taken it up and now espouse it as though it had always been their own, and then it belongs to history.

Win or lose, the question of what was achieved begs a larger question: Is it useful to hail less-than-perfect, less-than-complete achievements? There is a real danger of complacency if the assessment is simplified into "we won" … But there is also danger in never acknowledging our role in the murky victories that do occur on this strange planet. For then you leave bystanders, newcomers, sometimes even old-timers with the impression that we never win, that nothing we do works, that we have no effect.

Solnit was mostly discussing the recent G8 summit, but the lesson might just as well be applied to greens’ battles with corporations, political opponents, public apathy, etc. There’s no shame in celebrating small, mixed victories, and saying that nothing but ultimate victory will do is tantamount to giving up.