“Life Is To Be Lived, Not Controlled; And Humanity Is Won By Continuing To Play In The Face Of Certain Defeat.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible man
Words by Jim Hemphill
For all of us in Oddworld, the results of the election have cut deep. During a time in which we felt the most hopeful, we’ve crashed painfully down to Earth. I, like many, went to sleep that night paralyzed.
In my desperate attempt to unpack the countless “whys” and “whats,” I keep coming back to two general ideas. The first is my explanation of why this happened; the second is my idea of what we should do next. Welp, here we go:
Over the ensuing days, I’ve read countless posts from friends filled with despair. I read things like “wake me up in 2020” and “America 1776-2016.” News articles have painted terrifying pictures of a divided country charging toward the cliff.
Especially recently, our generation has mastered the use of social media and mobile technology as a means of propelling our social justice causes. We’ve raised awareness and money by harnessing the ease of social media. We’ve even created new platforms for the sole purpose of political activism. However, with our dependence on social media as a political forum, we’ve created a paradox; the very thing that makes politicized social media so powerful has also left our generation completely powerless. Through the ease of social media engagement, Millennials have largely become bona fide armchair activists.
I’m the first to admit guilt on this end. #blacklivesmatter requires less effort than protesting or writing letters. Checking into Standing Rock takes a fraction of the amount of time it takes to drive to South Dakota. These actions are faster, easier, and cheaper than their alternatives, and they are a great way to spread awareness.
However, my hope is that this election can force us to see the truth that these actions should not be substituted for real civic activism.
We have to understand that as well intentioned as our Internet activism is, it actually comes from a place of privilege. We’ve been horrified by the Trump campaign’s embodiment of white privilege, the antithesis of our core social values. What we’ve failed to acknowledge though, is that by substituting action for Internet activism, we’re actually propelling that same privilege.
While we “RT” and “Like,” people continue to suffer the inequities that our political system creates. Unfortunately for so many in this country, there is no “unfollow” for systemic oppression. For this reason, we the privileged have the responsibility to fight harder now.
The truth is that the hard right’s grip on the Federal government will have a negligible effect on those of us that come from white, middle class backgrounds. It will be easier than ever to indulge in our favorite forms of armchair activism because most changes will not affect our daily lives. Sure we’ll tweet and share articles displaying our anger over mass deportations and the defunding of planned parenthood but what will we do to act when the changes aren’t necessarily affecting our lives? In order to enact change and undermine the white, male power structures that reign, we need to see our social media platforms for what they really are: a spoke in the wheel of social change, not the wheel itself.
For years, social media has served as an intellectual bubble for each of us, a perfect alternate universe, where our friends are upset about the same things that we are, where those that disagree are lumped together in that ambiguous, amorphous “them.” In this way, we’ve effectively shut off one of the most beautiful aspects of the American experiment- civil discourse.
The reason that we were so blindsided by the right’s victory last Tuesday was that we haven’t taken the time in the last eight years to even acknowledge its existence, let alone engage in dialogue. Ultimately, I think that this election presents our generation with the opportunity to galvanize each other. I hope that the shock of election night shows us that our social media channels are not good measures of public opinion. In order to pop our social media bubbles, we have to understand that many of the folks that voted Trump have been standing near us the entire time.
The fact of the matter is that the dangerous base that Trump pandered to in the primaries doesn’t even approach the 56 million people that voted for him in the general (many of which voted for Obama in 2012). The people that gave Trump the presidency are people that for some reason have decided that the current status quo has not effectively served them. Their own bubble of white privilege has made it possible for them to tolerate or ignore the hatred and ignorance spewed from the right throughout this campaign. Some of these individuals are our neighbors, our family members, maybe even our friends.
This election has given us the chance to pop our intellectual bubble and begin to start conversations with the people that make us afraid and uncomfortable. It gives us the chance to show this segment of the population exactly why we believe the things that we do. It provides the opportunity to start two-way conversations an engage in a national debate rather than a screaming match.
Instead of viewing our political adversaries with contempt, can enact real change right now, by approaching from points of love and empathy. Through compassionate dialogue with the other side, we can convince the country that systemic racism and sexism are major problems. We can show climate change is real and talk about how we can counteract it. We can demonstrate exactly why LGBT rights, the rights of women and the rights of people of color are important for EVERYONE. We can and should effectively argue why we should trade equality (the same for all) for equity (providing extra to those who need it more).
Through our actions and conversations, we can show Trump voters why this administration and this congress do not represent their best interests. We can show them why Hillary Clinton was right in saying that this country is stronger together.
I know what you’re thinking- “of course racism, sexism, xenophobia and jingoism are awful, anyone who doesn’t see that is wrong.” And they are! But I challenge you to think back to how you came to form the political opinions that you now hold. Each of us has been shaped through conversation, through exposure to new ideas. Each of us has had illuminating experiences that lead us to form our own political identity. Now think about the fact that a white man in rural Pennsylvania probably wasn’t exposed to the same progressive environment. I challenge anyone who reads this to be that light, be an ambassador of your ideology. Challenge the opinions of others through dialogue.
The easiest way to get our ideological message through is simply to love, to care, and to look out for each other. Of course we can and must continue to provide support and safe spaces to those who continue to be marginalized. We need to be vociferous in our disapproval. We should and must continue to protest ignorance. But instead of demonizing “the other,” let’s challenge the mental image of who “the other” actually is. Always remember that the beauty of this country is the faith that the best ideas come from disagreement; when we challenge each other, we find the best in everyone.
Our generation overwhelmingly stands united on most social issues (you’ve seen the almost full blue maps of Millennial voting tallies), and that should comfort us. But that doesn’t mean that we can simply wait for our turn. Privilege makes it easy for us to say #notmypresident and start the countdown to 2020, but in doing that we’re giving up on the people that have been left the most vulnerable by this shift of power. It’s our duty to show the President-elect and his Congress that the fractured dystopia that they so desperately want is actually a beautiful, compassionate, effective social experiment.
Keep tweeting, but also start talking. We have a lot of work to do.