Thursday, October 15, 2015

Five Paragraphs That Won't Solve Anything

Every movement for social justice, as a rule, should frequently and emphatically layout their program to amend the existing social order. The most dangerous time for many organic movements is at the beginning. Movements that lack a hierarchical structure often suffer from knowing where they want to go, but not being able to come to a consensus on how to get there. Imagine activists at a train station with four independent engines and four sets of tracks to choose from; if every conductor wants to get to the same place, but their trains are taking off in different directions what happens to their movement? A once strong unified front ends up splintered with factions that have diminished voices and reduced power. I'm not sure how to rectify this problem, but several movements have suffered this fate. Restructuring any society's thought process is hard work.   

We need more cure and less diagnosis. People who share similar struggles don't need to be constantly reminded about their plight. Wanting justice and writing about justice isn't enough to produce justice. If my generation (self included) dedicated as much time actively pursuing justice as we do writing about it we might get somewhere. It's hard to cause mild shifts in a society: once an idea becomes entrenched in the psyche of a nation it can take decades, or even centuries for it to be repudiated. As a rule radical shifts in any society are almost impossible achieve over a short period of time. Most people look at the 1960's as the pivotal moment where agency and social conscious collided to force change in America. That's somewhat accurate, but it's a reductionist view that negates the generations of men and women tied to the fight for equality. In truth, the 1960's started in the early 1830's. What happened for Blacks, women, and people with mental and physical disabilities was facilitated by the failures and successes of those who created the space for new normal.

The end of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century have spoiled us with a gift called instant gratification. The technology that makes it easier to connect with each other has led some to believe that everything in life should happen in an expedited way. We have kids in their early 20's who've never waited on the mailman to bring them a letter. I worry about this next generation of activists. I worry that some may lack the necessary perseverance to see large scale projects through. Change is hard. Often the tangible signs of progress don't materialize as quickly as we would like. It's easy to get support for an issue that penetrates social media. Once something goes viral or trends public support jumps on the bandwagon. People will change their avatars, or shade their profile pictures to support the current cause, but too few make the next step of engaging in the civic and political process. 

Everyone who identifies with and supports a particular front in the battle for social justice and equality has a moral obligation to find your place in the arena. For some it might be a small town helping to organize like minded people. Everyone can't be center stage, but that doesn't absolve us from our responsibilities to our movements. If you find yourself in a position to engage the public face(s) of your movement hold them accountable if and when they get off message. Leadership isn't a quality that someone can take from you. We need to avoid the trap of associating status and positioning with leadership. If we're serious about social justice we need to have the most informed, most politically savvy, and the most determined people part of our organization at the planning level. Theory is important because the only way to get to a conception of the future is by understanding as much about the past and present as possible. When the cameras are aimed at us we need to have a set of demands, and a practical way to insure that every level of government can start the process of implementing our policies.  

The rhetoric we use is vital. This goes back to the point of clearly defining ourselves and our intentions. Language is important. We have to control our image. Black Lives Matter learned this the hard way when a group in Minnesota was recorded reciting anti-police chants. Their lack of judgment opened the door to a media cycle full of coverage that attempted to delegitimize calls to hold cities and police departments accountable for the actions of their officers. This is why competent leadership at all levels is vital. We need to speak in a strong affirming manner that leaves no doubt about our goals. However, we should avoid ultimatums that can cause us to suspend commonsense in order to honor them. This may seem simple to someone reading this, but the reality is: too many social and political movements have adopted hard line positions that often make negotiating more difficult. Fiery rhetoric can move crowds, but it can also hinder progress. The majority of the people who read this probably have a better understanding of what it means to be an activist than I do, but can we guarantee that everyone marching or protesting with us can say the same?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Welcome to #Amurdica

When it comes mass shootings, the gun is the tool of the coward. Their individual weaknesses are over compensated for by hatred and semiautomatic weapons. A profound lack of courage is at the center of these attacks. For some, it's easier to shoot innocent people than it is to address the unfulfilled areas of their lives. They often leave manifestos behind detailing their desire for cultural relevance. These perpetrators are products of a culture obsessed with fame and instant gratification. The socioeconomic factors facing our youth must be addressed, but we have to accept the fact that some people don't value life. There's not an economic metric that can make life more valuable to someone who has decided their life is worthless. Once we accept this fact we have to (collectively) keep an eye on the loners around us. 

For years I incorrectly thought the greatest danger associated with hate TV and radio was the habitual misinformation that has made political dialogue almost impossible. I've been forced to admit my mistake. The greatest danger this medium has given us is hatred as a socially acceptable virtue. The vitriol found in comments sections of political websites and blogs are a reflection of what passes for cogent arguments in this world. This cycle keeps repeating itself. In order to get ratings: the pundit class makes hyperbolic claims that play to the fears of their listeners. In order to gain, or maintain a national platform: elected officials, and candidates frequent these shows- thus adding legitimacy to their claims. This cycle has spiraled out of control. The need to be more outrageous and outlandish than the competition never ends. 

I'm not blaming every mass shooting on radio and television, but we shouldn't deny the atmosphere created by the purveyors of this genre. We have a generation of young men who grew up playing video games where the simulated images of death are just as real as any dash cam footage. These same men have been bombarded with movies and music that glorify killing. Now, combine all of these underlying factors with easy access to guns, and a hatred for "others" that's validated by their source of news. It's a wonder we don't have more mass shootings. The genius of right-wing media is how they have walled off a segment of our country from any information that challenges their agenda. When almost 50% of the country trust the guy who hooked up their router more than the scientists and engineers who developed the technology there's a problem.

(5×3=15) isn't controversial because arguing its validity makes you look like an idiot. Yet, Conservative media consistently refute factually accurate claims. Ignorance has two deadly forms: unknown and unchecked. As a culture, our collective ignorance often goes unchecked. When cable television pundits are more trusted than academia and journalist ignorance flourishes. The right-wing's denial of scientific evidence supporting man-made global warming, and the hysteria during the 2014 Ebola scare are the fruits of this perverted tree. We had citizens who trusted Fox news more than the CDC and the doctors treating Ebola. When a lawyer argues a case they don't present facts that counter their arguments. This is the foundation of politically slanted news. So, when we point out statistics about gun violence we fall into the trap of thinking facts are enough. Every argument we make has to pierce a thick layer of defense that's designed to dismiss any information that comes from untrustworthy sources. We are actually powerless to those entrenched in their ideology. There's not a set of facts in the world that can't be refuted or reduced to liberal bias.

I believe we can reduce some of these tragedies through community mental health services and common sense legislation, but we also need to force people to admit that Ahmed, Manuel, and Jamal aren't the only threats our country face. Little Billy and Timmy are quiet until they make noise. We shouldn't shame people for their personal fears, but we should be brutal in our criticisms of individuals and institutions who perpetuate those feelings and encourage people to act on them. Passing any meaningful legislation on semiautomatic weapons and magazine sizes seems impossible, but we have to create an atmosphere where opposing such legislation is an embarrassment. No reasonable person believes we can stop every mass shooting, but we should try to make it as hard as possible.