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?

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