Putting back the shock in injustice
When it became clear that certain quarters in Washington were going to use the Haitian Earthquake as a pretext for imposing neo-liberal economic policies on the country. I saw a handful of people arguing that it was stupid for activists to be horrified by such events, as clearly we ought to realise that this kind of thing happens all the time. The message grated, and I’ve spotted it a couple of times since, and it still grates even then.
I’m sure many of the people who have become involved in campaigns have arrived there due to a sense of shock at some new revelation of the way the world is functioning right now. I’d go so far as to say its a necessary starting point, and one that established group members need to be careful neither to exploit nor patronise. Indeed, I’ve noted that many established groups struggle to cope with new activist’s sense of injustice, as if somehow it should have been clear to them all along.
Yes, some people join campaigns having always been aware of injustice, but others join on very early waves of anger, and remain fuelled by them for some time. On one level, its inevitable that such feelings will fade; I don’t get half as worked up as I used to. But I do recognise that I need to reconnect with the emotions of a situation from time to time. I’ve commented before and I’ll say it again: people need to stop doing activism if they stop crying when they watch the news. Its not necessary to take the statement literally, but it should be clear what I was getting at.
So what I got annoyed at was the way an activist told a friend to “get over it” when they posted a shocked status update about the newly revealed injustice. Is it any wonder that people have managed little more than a few online petitions on debt in response to debt situation in Haiti right now? It also seems from further inspection that there’s a kind of “only a liberal would be shocked by that” attitude, that somehow if you’re further left, you should have the sense to realise this is normal behaviour for the world’s richest and most powerful.
Jim Wallis, a Christian activist and writer has said, and I entirely agree, that each and every generation must make a choice on what behaviour it is prepared to accept and what it will refuse to accept. How radical, how far left is one if one just passively accepts that something is normal? Shock implies that the behaviour has been declared “abnormal” – something that is key to breaking the underlying cycles that perpetuate it. If we don’t treat injustice as abnormal, as something to be shocked about, how can we hope to initiate change? Capitalists know this, its why they created the thinking termed “the shock doctrine”.
Being shocked is important if we’re to turn crisis into opportunity, but it is also important if we are to focus on the human aspect of any given situation alongside the systemic analysis. Losing that sense of shock, of outrage, at injustices, makes it OK to passively comply with evil. We should demand a shocked response from everyone, not trample on the shocked responses of those who are most likely to act. If anyone asks why I or a friend am so shocked by something again, expect a fairly fiery answer: its time to stop acting like injustice is to be expected, obvious, normal!
Entry filed under: Activism.