Dear Tired, Beloved Justice-Seeker,
Never let anyone tell you that your voice doesn’t matter. It does. It always has.
Here’s what I know about the tone police, the calls to end political correctness, the insistence that “all” and “blue” lives matter, and the refusal to acknowledge white privilege and supremacy: this backlash is a signal that all the ways in which we speak out against violence and injustice—through our conversations, protests, vigils, civil disobedience, social media posts, writing, reading, sharing, and community—are working.
Your outrage is useful, important, and valuable. It has already changed the world. Our outrage follows in the footsteps of all the mothers, fathers, parents, lovers, brothers, sisters and ancestors who refused to silence their grief, who refused to be intimidated, who refused to hide their shame and loss, and who joined with each other to say unapologetically, “This is not right. This must stop.”
I used to think that no matter what I did or how much I threw myself into the struggle for change, my efforts were tiny grains of sand bouncing off a concrete wall. One long book helped me see that my little grains are part of a sandstorm that’s blown for thousands of years, and continues to wear away at even the most impenetrable institutions. “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” by Steven Pinker is a brilliant (and sometimes problematic) history of inter-human violence from prehistoric times to the present day. At more than 800 pages (almost half of which are footnotes), I’m guessing it may not make it onto your bedside table anytime soon. I found some great takeaways for activists that I use to re-inspire my outrage and give me perspective when I’m exhausted.
More Radical Reads: 6 Signs Your Call-Out Isn’t Actually About Accountability
Despite the fact that many of us feel like inter-human violence is at an all time high throughout the world, the truth is that it’s currently at its lowest point in human history. I know it’s an outrageous assertion. Here are some reasons why it might be true:
1.We feel like violence is higher instead of lower than ever because:
a) we have forgotten how normalized and prevalent everyday violence was throughout both our national and our human history, b) mainstream white culture tends to idealize and soften the past, and c) media and technology allow us to see violence and its effects more frequently and vividly than ever before. But most importantly, we perceive the incidence of violence as high because our empathy for others and our outrage over the unfairness and cruelty of violence are higher than ever. Recall that torturing cats for fun, killing a child for theft, and having a picnic while lynching someone were once considered unremarkable events (among other horrors). All up until grief, empathy, and their energetic friends, courage and outrage, got involved.
2. As outrage increases, violence decreases.
The more often we hold accountable those who commit and support violent acts, the less acceptable violence becomes. The response of hundreds of thousands of protestors to the Vietnam War permanently changed the way the US government has dealt with declaring and sustaining wars ever since. In the US, lynching is illegal (but not eradicated), child abuse and animal abuse are recognized, and domestic violence receives attention it never has before. (Just checking…you knew that for decades lynching was all but legal, right? And that women, children, and animals could be abused and disposed of as property, by right of law?) These changes happened because communities came together in outrage. We’re not done—we have so much more to accomplish in these areas and more, with issues affecting communities of color like police brutality and incarceration standing in the forefront at this point in history. But we, the big “we” of all caring people throughout time, are having an extraordinarily positive and continuing effect.
3.Change is annoying slow.
This one bugs the shit out of me. I want people’s lives to be better now, not just in 20 or 40 or 100 years. History shows that real change tends to happen on a longer time scale than our lifetimes. We’re talking about changing the way people (for example, racist police officers) emotionally respond to fear and violence. Moving a community or culture away from enthusiastic participation in violence and towards disgust and outrage that both prevents violence and holds it accountable takes an outrageously long time. And we should clamor, beat on drums, and chain ourselves to doorways to demand it happen sooner. Still this takeaway SUCKS…I hear you.
4.But change DOES happen…
…and when we sustain, feed, and act constructively on our outrage, we carry forward the work of the generations before us. You are one of those ancestors of the generations to come. Your voice and your outrage not only continue to foment the changes we want to see in the world, but will inspire all those who come after you to keep up the good outrage.
More Radical Reads: What Does Everyday Radical Activism Mean?
The world needs your outrage. Don’t stop yelling, not on the page, or the streets, or walking hand in hand in community. We need each others’ upraised voices. We need yours. Go rest, take care of your beloved body and soul, and then come back and join us in the storm again when you’re ready. Your voice…is everything.
[Feature Image: A black and white photo of a group of people walking in the streets. They are carrying signs. One person is carrying a large bucket and a wooden spoon. Source: Varin]