©Richard L. Copley Memphis 1968
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
Somewhere between Dr. King’s “luminous brotherhood” and Trump’s “glorious wall” the term social justice warrior has became a sneering pejorative, a mean meme that stereotypes those who fight for human rights.
Social justice is not self righteous, it has nothing to do with the desire not to be offended, it is not communism as many conservatives fear, and it is not fueled by emotion over intellect. It is a cause that deeply respects the dignity of all life. Social justice advocates believe passionately in the fundamental rights and moral freedoms that our Declaration of Independence and Constitution provide, including civil disobedience.
Social justice begins with the right for all to have food, shelter, healthcare, a clean and safe environment, education, and honest employment that offers fair and equal wages. Why has the endeavor to attain this level of decency become either an object of cruel tweets or thought of as an idealistic dream of naive innocents?
Social justice is an ideology that cannot be brought about by laws alone. If this were so, the Civil Rights Act would have ended racism. The cause of social justice is in the very fabric of who we are as individuals, what we believe in and how strongly we believe in it. Activists for this movement may be ridiculed but be careful of defamation and dismissal for they are the arch weapons of bullies and despots.
As we work for equality it is important to be careful of what we want to be equal to…a glossy society fascinated by power, wealth, sexuality and violence…a culture in which the bloodied, dismembered bodies of men, women, and children, are “collateral damage” and practices of torture “enhanced interrogation techniques”? Anodyne Orwellian phrases shield us from the truth, pacify, and lull us into thinking that all is normal and acceptable. Beware, they are designed to limit your thinking. The rise of Trumpism and the tyranny in its wake is a warning against this kind of complacency and carelessness.
As an educator, Trump’s campaign quote, “I love the uneducated!” reverberates.
Knowledge is power, and no one knows this more keenly than those who would seize it. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist and social justice hero, “I question America”.
To question, one must be educated and aware. This is why the campaign to smear journalists who don’t fall in line with the GOP status quo as liars and pervaders of “fake news” is critical to resist. We have a moral duty to be educated citizens, but without freedom of the press this becomes a difficult task. Journalists speak truth to power, without this safeguard we are exposed to the toxins of lies, fear mongering, distrust, and the spread of hatred and intolerance, all precursors of a fascist regime.
Social justice is not an isolated condition. It is a complex aspiration with roots in empathy. Empathy is not possible without believing in the humanity of all peoples, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or status. It cannot be achieved in a vacuum but is deeply entwined in all aspects of our life, from the collapse of eco-systems caused by pollutants, the myriad effects of poverty, to gun laws and their direct impact on the safety of our children.
To embrace a true and global integration we must value the sacredness of life. We must acknowledge that whatever pain society suffers affects us all. When we fail, it is a collective failure. Social justice is not a partisan matter, nor a liberal fantasy, but an aspiration that may be our only hope in preserving, not just our democracy, but the future of our planet as well.
“I can not, will not, permit myself to envision a world in which humanity is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright day break of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
©donnaesgro March For Our Lives Los Angeles, 2018