Challenging the “Decline of Movements” Meme

31 Jan

During debrief for  Public Allies Silicon Valley/San Francisco’s Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day training I gave my perspective on the nature of movements and the persistent dead social movements meme.

So often I hear conversations about the lack of “a movement.” Despite the important work that all of us engage in, whether it happen in our full-time non-profits or side hustles/volunteer time with advocacy/justice organizations, there is a predominant narrative that society doesn’t care any more and activists aren’t doing enough to make them care. The presumption being that, if activists (whoever those are) were doing good work, society would care about the work they do.

As I say in the video above, I think that premise is fundamentally flawed. What’s more I think the question isn’t why aren’t more activists, organizations, policy-makers working to confront the injustices that face our  national, local, and global communities, but rather why do we as individuals know so little about all of the work that is constantly being done. Rather than trying to pick out what others are doing wrong, I think it is useful to turn towards self and examine the dynamics at play in my (our) own life that contribute to this problem.

I think it’s useful to take both a top-down and bottom-up approach to understanding this issue. Therefore I think two questions can guide this reflection.

A) What forces obscure this justice promoting, inequality fighting work from the public consciousness?
B) How do individual media literacy skills and information gathering practices inhibit the discovery of news about the good work getting done?

I know for myself it wasn’t until I began to proactively search for social justice organizations like Public Allies or the Applied Research Center that I began to get a sense of the network of professional activists that work on issues I care about. It wasn’t until  I took classes on the history of the Black Freedom Struggle that I questioned my preconceived notion that the only people who count as “activists” are those whose full-time, day job includes working for an advocacy organization. Real activism had to look like sit-downs and protests and marches. There was no space in my mind at the time for recognizing the activist, justice work being enacted daily by teachers, parents, and title-less community leaders.  Finally, it wasn’t until I began to search out blogs like Racialicious that interpret media through the lens of racial justice, that I understood how biased the news coverage I’d become so disenchanted with, truly was.

What I gather/learn/believe about the two questions I posed is this:

  • Corporate media often doesn’t cover social justice work in a sustained and consistent manner, it is not the primary place to find information about justice promoting work
  • Often we only identify certain types of people doing certain types of work as real activism; we miss out on the other important work being doesn’t fit in that box
  • We must all cultivate and constantly renew our media literacy skills to sift through the multiple types, sources of media we expose ourselves to since it is often tells biased narratives of a society that has eclipsed injustice based inequality and place the blame for inequality on the shoulders of those most harmed by it; in such a society acivism and social justice work  is often deemed out-dated and stuck in the past
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