Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can solo acts spark social movements?

The other day at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Erik Loomis, who I usually consider a sharp observer of popular organizing, wrote a post with a strange premise about Bree Newsome's wonderful direct action in pulling down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capital.

The Role of a Single Activist
... This fantastic episode of direct action ramps up the pressure on South Carolina to get rid of the flag and continues placing the anti-flag movement in the public eye where it has been since the attack on the Charleston church last week. ...

What’s also interesting about this to me is the outsized role single activists can sometimes have in moving conversations forward, setting off new movements, and exposing the power structure that oppresses people. Most of us are simply not going to climb that flag pole. But we probably should. ...

It had not occurred for me for a minute to think of Newsome as a "single activist." Her brave step seems so obviously to arise out of organized demands, out of the wonderful eruption of justice energy that is the Black Lives Matter movement. She was undoubtedly aware of a community of sisters and brothers who would have her back. That posse would leverage the resources to support her. Her life matters.

Now Loomis is of course right that lonely acts can sometimes prompt vast movements. But lonely acts will often -- usually -- sink without a ripple. What's hard is to predict which actions will make enduring waves. What Newsome did certainly amplified a cresting tide already in motion. She's won an honored place in the long river of resistance -- but she is certainly not alone.
All that was introduction to this video which struck me as presenting a worthy, semi-solitary, effort to advance a movement. Walking for justice has many precedents. The guy has a big union at this back. Somehow I doubt his pilgrimage will fan many sparks that aren't already smoldering along his route. But of course I could be wrong. And when what you need is movement, you need as many solo actors as possible, hoping that one will raise a conflagration.



Rain Trueax said...

I think where it comes to gay marriage, it's not the marches or demonstrations. It's more people knowing gay couples in their communities and seeing they are just people in love who want a family life. It's when someone seems really different or even scary that the culture backs away. When they see that something is normal, they accept.

This morning we had a friend drop by. Remember this is a logging and ranching area and most of the people out here are of that ilk. This is a nice guy and has done a lot of work with my husband. So we are laughing and joking out front under the trees and he makes a comment about how gay marriage is a sign of the end times. He didn't mean this in a vicious way but it's how the Christian people out here think.

When we hear something like that, from a perfectly nice person, not someone hate filled, we have a choice. We can say nothing, laugh and agree, or do what my husband and I did-- say we think gay marriage is good and pretty soon it'll just be marriage. The more we say that we know gay couples and they are just couples, the sooner this will all be just something people wonder why it was ever an issue. When we speak out that it's not a sign of the end times and is instead a good thing for all people to be able to live lives that are honest and true to who they are, the sooner this will be put behind us and we can go onto issues that matter more to all of us. I know he was shocked by his face but the more people speak the truth to each other in a nice way, the more I think, step by step, things change. Eventually everybody wonders why was it ever illegal or considered immoral for mixed racial marriages. And I used that example purposely, as not that many years, it was an issue also and now most of us don't even think about it. I believe speaking out in a nice, friendly way and everybody doing it, who believes it's a good thing, that changes things more than in your face will ever.

Same thing with the Confederate flag. I don't agree with a lot that is being said right now, but it's a symbol that does bother some people and why is it needed? In your face? I think a lot of people just looked at that and thought-- this needs to change as it's hurting some and maybe giving some nutcases an excuse.

I just hope with the flag that the North, who is being a little sanctimonious about this, doesn't forget a lot of the bad racial stuff has been happening in the north. Segregation is very much here. Housing that keeps groups apart is here as much as the south. Violence is here. So putting it all on a flag is a way for some to ignore the issues that need to be dealt with like better gun regulations (although if a father is going to give his son a gun, then it takes more than who can buy one but also who is responsible for the misuse). And hate talk should always be challenged wherever it's heard because a lot of what built up the momentum for the hate murders in Charleston was hate talk. But a lot of what changes a culture is not the hate talk, that frankly can be on both sides, but just being familiar with what is different. The more we segregate each other, the more fear breeds and violence. I don't know if people tried to talk to the mass murderer in SC, but if they listened and said nothing, they need to rethink their position and responsibility. Groups where we all see things the same way make it easy and less pressure, but not sure it really changes anything. It is, of course, more fun when we all agree than when we take the risk of saying what we think and it's not popular.

janinsanfran said...

Rain: I can't agree with you more that all of us need to challenge hate talk -- and think!

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