I’m infuriated by how things are at the moment. Politicians who support legislation that suppresses women’s rights. Corporate officers who maintain their own profits—and those of their shareholders—by cutting jobs left and right and manipulating the financial system at our expense. Religious zealots who would drag us all into a new Dark Age if they had their way. The destruction of the environment across the globe. Violence against women, children, and animals. I could go on and on and on.
Social and political problems are nothing new. But I’m so fed up with how the Powers That Be are failing to address them despite the wishes of the general public. Look at how the Senate rejected the bill that would require background checks prior to gun purchases. Public support for gun control is at a record high, yet these fuckwads still voted against this measure. Women make up 50% of the workforce, yet the Equal Rights Amendment remains unratified, the glass ceiling is still firmly in place, and misogynist douchebags are as vocal as ever. Despite the number of Americans who expressed their disgust during the recent fiscal cliff talks, Republicans and Democrats couldn’t work together to find solutions to our economic difficulties because they were too busy having a dick-measuring contest.
Carl von Clausewitz, the famous military strategist, said, “War is a continuation of policy by other means.” I believe its inverse is also true: policy is a continuation of war by other means.
I realize that I’m overdramatizing and oversimplifying much of this. But you get the idea, hopefully.
We can protest, sign petitions, write letters, boycott, and try to vote shady politicians out of office. But there’s not much hope of success; corporations enjoy “personhood,” politicians are beholden to lobbyists more than to constituents, and companies don’t care about consumers until their bottom lines are adversely affected.
Typically, petitions are effective only when small, specific goals are involved. A petition to keep one animal from being euthanized, for instance, can be successful; a petition to abolish wholesale animal killing won’t be. Although I like how in the UK they have e-petitions, where petitions that get more than 100,000 signatures are considered for debate in the House of Commons. There’s no guarantee that a petition with 100,000 names will be chosen, but it’s an interesting way for British citizens to get their voices heard. [Note: Since writing this, I've learned that the US has a similar thing in place---I suppose I didn't know this because our politicians seem hellbent on remaining deaf to us Color me shocked.]
Protests can help to shine the spotlight on problems, but in themselves they don’t change anything. Occupy Wall Street was—and still is—a vital voice for the 99% of us who are getting shafted by the 1%. But nothing in corporate America has really improved. Corporate leaders and shareholders are still making money hand over fist while houses are still in foreclosure and the job market continues to languish. And to date, not one brokerage CEO has been sent to jail for his part in destroying the financial market.
Writing letters to your representative or senator? One constituent voicing displeasure with a certain policy isn’t going to make much of a difference, unfortunately. Same with boycotting certain retailers or other companies. What’s one less consumer to a franchise or a multi-national corporation? Nothing, really.
Voting idiots out of office can be effective, but government is like a hydra—a multi-headed clusterfuck. You cut one idiot out, there will surely be two more to take his or her place.
Negative publicity (or what I like to call “public shaming”) can sometimes serve as an impetus for change. Just a few weeks ago, Disney was slammed for its “I Need a Hero” t-shirts for girls. News of these shirts spread like wildfire, sparking multiple online petitions and news stories. Shortly afterwards, Disney removed those shirts from their website. It’s hard to know whether they would have lost a lot of revenue if they hadn’t—I suspect they wouldn’t have—but it was refreshing to see that corporations can respond to public sentiment and do the right thing. There are other examples of the power of the consumer backlash, like the New Coke debacle and the Tropicana branding fiasco. But they largely involved products, not policies.
It often takes years, even generations, for sea changes in attitudes and practices to occur. At times it takes acts of civil disobedience (e.g., Rosa Parks, the Woolworth’s sit-ins) or rioting (e.g., the Stonewall Riots) to get the ball rolling. But those daring, drastic acts aren’t ones that most of us have the cojones for.
Power and money are the two things most likely to influence people and organizations to change. As long as their current practices are lucrative and/or keep them in power, they won’t have any reason to change the status quo.
In one of my favorite acts of civil disobedience, loss of both power and money led to a policy change. In 1989, Margaret Thatcher instituted the Poll Tax, which set off a series of riots in London, and more importantly, it inspired a massive non-payment campaign. An estimated 20-30% of the British public refused to pay the tax, and it was abolished by Thatcher’s successor, John Major. Such protests can succeed because of the sheer number of people involved; what were they going to do, throw all of those people in jail?
So what can we do? We can write blog posts and use Twitter and Facebook to broadcast information about the injustices we see around us. And I’m not talking about the impassioned-but-utterly-futile “Share this status if you think child abuse is wrong!” posts on Facebook. Social media can be immensely helpful in spreading negative publicity, raising awareness, and promoting thought-provoking dialog. But individually, we can do only so much. (But if a blog post alone could generate change, then this post would have worked wonders.)
I don’t want to be powerless anymore. I’m tired of sitting here sputtering with impotent rage. I want to ACT. The old saying goes, “Think global, act local.” Today, with people, countries, and economies being so inter-dependent, we can think globally and act locally AND globally. I want to make a genuine, tangible difference. I bet a lot of you do as well. Now we just have to figure out how to go about it.