Social Justice in 2014: Three Things to Do LESS

"Thrown over a precipice, you fall or else you fly; you clutch at any hope, however unlikely; however – if I may use such an overworked word – miraculous. What we mean by that is, Against all odds." - Margaret Atwood

Social Justice in 2014: Three Things to Do LESS

There are some wonderful things happening right now. All last year, I said it again and again, we’re on the cusp of something great. Sites trying to create positive change in the world dominate my social media feeds. I was getting my hair cut today and I said I do “social justice work” and the hairdresser actually [kinda] knew what that meant. We’re more aware than we have been in my lifetime, and we’d be okay with a revolution.

But we still have a long way to go (hard to believe, I know, what with a Black president and all). So what do we do in 2014 to capitalize on the momentum we built in 2013? There are a few things I would like to see happen. Or, rather, some things that happened a lot in 2013 that I’d like to see less of.

1. Spend Less Time Preaching to the Converted

If you’re doing social justice work you probably surround yourself with social justice people, whether it’s in person or online – that’s great. Everyone needs a network or family of support. SJ work is inherently stressful, depressing, and all-faith-in-humanity-depleting, so you could argue we need it more than most. I would argue that.

But there’s fine line between support system and echo chamber. We need the support system, but I’m hoping in 2014 we can spend less time in the echo chamber. I’m hoping we can step outside and start to engage in more conversations with the folks on the fringes and beyond. Helping these folks better understand SJ issues and, hopefully, jump aboard means change.

It’s far more difficult to talk to lay people than folks well-versed in SJ issues. You have to start at square one every time, go in without assumptions, allow them to ask questions and guide the conversation, and who got time for that? Well, hopefully, you. There are other questions for us to mull. Your blog post has 1,000 shares? Who is sharing it? Or, more importantly, who is reading it? Who is showing up for your SJ session at that conference? Who isn’t? Why not? How can we get them interested? How can we get through to them? Who let the dogs out?

I love talking SJ with SJ people. It’s like mutual verbal masturbation. But moreso, I love the idea of a socially just society, and that’s not going to happen if we spend all our time mutually verbal masturbating each other. Also, probably won’t help if that analogy catches on.

2. Spend Less Time Vilifying Ignorance

Here’s a [non-scientific and likely exaggerated to make this point] distribution of the links in my Facebook newsfeed:

  1. Blank Ways This Blanky Blank Blanked That Will Blow Your Mind (42%)
  2. This Asshole Who Doesn’t Understand Social Justice Said/Did Something Bigoty (32%)
  3. Adorable Animals (16%)
  4. Something Anti or Pro Gun Rights (7%)
  5. George Takei (3%)

Here are some things I would love to see more of:

  1. This Person Screwed Up, Which Is Understandable. Social Justice Issues are Complex.
  2. Here’s An Easy To Understand, Non-Vitriolic Explanation of This SJ Concept
  3. I Remember Back To When I Didn’t Understand this Issue, So I Can Empathize With Why You Can’t Wrap Your Mind Around It
  4. This Person Asked An Honest Question And We Gave Them A Compassionate, Patient Answer
  5. George Takei

I wrote about this the other day: ignorance isn’t a bad thing. We need to stop treating it like it is, and creating demons out of ignorance. Most of us are incredibly ignorant about most of the things in the world, and all of us started out completely ignorant to SJ issues. We all started at square one, we all learned, and now we have the opportunity to share that learnin’ with others. We can allow ourselves to hate the ignorant folks, or we can choose to love them and do what we can to make them feel safe outside of their echo chambers.

3. Spend Less Time Acquiescing to the Status Quo

The majority of Americans support the majority of the big issues American social justice people are working toward. I’m not sure exactly how things look elsewhere, but that’s a pretty shocking fact to experience here.

States opposing marriage equality are dropping like flies, but they are still in the majority, even though the populous has spoken. Why is that still being “debated”? Even in red states, the vast majority of people believe climate change is real and that the gov’t should step in. Mostmost (sorry, running out of synonyms) think capitalism is broken, or are at least displeased with wealth inequality in the US. I could go on, but I won’t. You get it.

It’s a weird time to be alive as a social justice advocate. We have the majority — we’re not some ruffian group of rabble-rousers — and we’re bowing out to the minority, a few old, outmoded, racist rocks standing against a surge of progress. But we’re still complicit in supporting huge systems of racial (and other identity-based) oppression. Aziz Ansari is comforted knowing racist people are dying off (FYI: I was doing that joke in 2006 — still have the notebook I wrote it in, but this isn’t about that… Aziz).

It’s like our cell phone reception was bad when heard that famous Maya Angelou quote, and internalized it wrong:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

Noooo! You must have been going through a tunnel. You missed the two most important parts. Change it! Change it. We can change it, y’all.

I was talking with this person on the bus the other day who was part of the civil rights marches in the 50s. He told me all these amazing stories, and I was completely enamored, and then I excitedly told him what I do. “I got a bone to pick with you,” he said. “You got the internet, and it seems like everyone’s talking about how things need to get better. Y’all got it so easy. We didn’t have none of that. So what the hell is wrong with your generation? We’d’ve fixed everything by now.”

People with privilege, start using your privilege to make change, instead of falling back so hard on the privilege of being able to ignore how broken things are.

#1 and #2 will help #3, but ultimately nothing will change unless we stop supporting and perpetuating the things we don’t believe in and start raising hell to see them changed.


If Full-Scale Revolution Started, Where Would You Be?

Everything is falling apart. You get to choose one thing to protect, and one thing to throw bricks at.

If Full-Scale Revolution Started, Where Would You Be?

I want to start by letting the NSA know this is purely a thought experiment. We cool? Sweet. Thanks, bros.

Now let’s burn this place to the ground.

Imagine we were in the middle of a full-scale, government upheaving, tea dumping, enterprise leveling, building burning revolution. You’re welcome to create your own impetus for this scenario. Choose whatever best fits your internal narrative for why this might happen. Now, everything you know is falling apart, and in a few days, or a few hours, your world is going to be a starkly different place.

What, if any, system would you try to protect? And what, if any, system would you toss metaphorical (or, I guess, literal) bricks at? I really want to hear your answers, or at least for you to ponder this yourself. It’s been an eye-opening thought experiment for me.

For me, this is a tough nut to crack. In general, I’m a fan of a bigger government. I think that a society needs to have a shared responsibility in providing fundamental needs in order for it to prosper indefinitely. Raw, unmitigated capitalism only works if there’s infinite room for growth — we live on a small planet, so that’s out. However, I’m not a fan of just about everything that’s happening on the big system level, from the public to the private sector.

To make an incredibly broad statement, everything is broken. But it’s easy to say that. It’s easy to say that things are wrong, and I want things to change. But it’s much more difficult to try to pin a particular system with the guilt, and choose where to aim my bricks. I’d probably start with big lending institutions, banks, and financial monoliths — oh! And their lobbyists. Definitely lobbyists. Brick, brick, brick, brick.

It’s easier to narrow down what I would want to protect. I’d take my pitchfork over to big research, particularly in the environmental sector, and swing it furiously. We need that. We can’t afford to lose that. But not those scientists who want to shoot garbage into the atmosphere to prevent global warming. They can eat brick.

So where would you be? What would you want to maintain, and what would you be happy to see gone? Think about it. Remember, Russell Brand started a revolution last night. You better gather up your bricks.

Hahahah kidding! This was all a joke. I love everything, especially Freddie Mac, who I know our government loves too. Love love love love lo — is the NSA still listening? No. Okay. Freddie Mac?


Better Humaning

I’d be okay with a revolution.

"You say you want a revolution. Well, you know, we all wanna change the world." - John Lennon

I’d be okay with a revolution.

I wrote a Facebook status and Tweet last week that were meant to be a joke. A sarcastic, I want more out of the world, parody-type joke. But nobody laughed.


I’m not mad. It was a bit too subtle for me to expect folks to catch the jokiness, and it’s cool that people echoed the top-level sentiment. We’re exposed to a lot of things these days (thanks, Internet) that are making us aware of how badly we need change.

Matt Damon “blew our minds” when he talked about how the reason the world is broken is civil obedience, and we need more disobedience. We saw when Russell Brand started a revolution on Gawker, focusing on the corruption and ineptitude of politicians and our political system. We know how only a few conglomerates own just about everything we consume, thanks to our minds being blown by Buzzfeed. Before that, we were made aware of the devastatingly slanted distribution of wealth in the US by Upworthy, and before that the same thing was brought to our attention by the Occupy Wall Street “Movement.” And way before any of this our minds were blown in 1970 by Howard Zinn’s “The Problem is Civil Obedience” Speech, which is the speech Matt Damon read and blew our minds with in that first video. Full circle, y’all. So. Many. Blown. Minds.

We know all that stuff and more. We know that Monsanto is destroying farming and agriculture, and Walmart is destroying the lives of employees, and Kony is destroying the lives of children. We know that roughly 780 million people lack access to safe, clean, drinkable water (1 in 9 people). We know that there are roughly 630,000 homeless people in the US (1 in 5 people). We know that [BLANK] is destroying [BLANK], or that [BLANK] lacks [BLANK] (and so on, times infinity — we’re well aware of what’s wrong).

We’d be okay with a revolution. We all want to see the world change. But we’re waiting for someone else to do something about it all.

“You say you got a real solution
Well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan, oh yeah
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know we’re all doing what we can.”

And that’s where my anti-joke came from. The frustration I am experiencing with a global consciousness and a lack of global action. We’re hyperaware of all the struggles the world (or at least our respective countries) is facing, yet we’re too weighed down by the fabricated problems in our immediate personal lives to do anything. I talked about how we view activism and this frustration in my latest podcast. We talk about how much we want to change things, but we don’t. But we want to! We really do! I know we do. And that creates a sense of dissonance and shame, or at least guilt. And guilt is paralyzing. And leads to us saying things that prevent anything from happening:

  • There are bigger problems in the world than [BLANK].
  • [Person Who is Calling for Change] isn’t perfect, let’s attack them instead of the system they’re part of (and advocating against).
  • I don’t have the [time, money, energy] for those people — I barely have enough to get by myself.
  • I’m just one person, what can I possibly do?

Do you know how many people we can confirm took part in the Boston Tea Party? 116 (~%0.00005 of the population). That’s zero-point-zero-zero-zero-zero-five people. FOUR ZEROs. I’m not even sure how to express that as a fraction (about 1/20,000th?). That’s way less than the 99% of people who participated in the Occupy Movement (ha! a jest!). But let’s be serious for a moment, can we? Please.

Don’t let all this “blow your mind.” Let this help you be more aware of your mind. Let this push you to mind.

We need to stop being okay with the overwhelming amount of injustice happening in the world, our country, our state, our city. We need to stop being okay with greed that leads to death, corruption that leads to exclusion, and marginalization that leads to a lack of basic human needs being met. We need to stop being okay with a revolution and we need to start demanding one.


While digging through my archives to find today’s cover photo, I found this photo below, which seems all too apt a way to end this thought.