By Irene Morse
Nov. 28, 2014
An imposing but unarmed black man was shot six times by a white police officer with a buzz cut. Cue tired stereotypes, paranoid herd behavior, and polarizing media obfuscation. Thousands of articles go live, comment wars abound, hashtags trend and Facebook relationships are severed. It all seems so complicated and dramatic, but it actually comes down to one key distinction: Action. Versus. Inaction.
Modern American politics is characterized by inaction. It is the status quo, and everyone is very comfortable with it. This year, voter turnout was the lowest it’s been since WWII, with only 36.4 percent of eligible voters actually showing up. Political party loyalty is in decline. Involvement in civic organizations has decreased by 58 percent since the 80s. And this inaction on the part of American citizens is simply a mirror of government inaction. The current 113th Congress will likely go down as the least productive Congress since the WWII era. The government has time and time again failed to take decisive action on pressing issues such as climate change, entitlement reform, immigration, health care, and ongoing wars in the Middle East. Blocking bills, denying review, and issuing sound bites have become the government’s chosen strategies: inaction masked as procedure.
The people of Ferguson decided that
Michael Brown’s death the systematic oppression and degradation of African Americans by police and courts mattered enough to take action. Protesters set fire to a dozen buildings, at least 150 gunshots were fired, rocks were hurled at police cars, and the interstate highway was shut down. Traditional activist groups such as the NAACP were quick to condemn the rioting and looting. Everyone wishes we could hold hands, sing kumbaya, and calmly share our feelings about race, fear, and prejudice. Americans are disturbed and terrified by these violent and chaotic acts. But what is disturbing and terrifying is not the acts themselves, but rather the fact that this is what it takes to start political discourse in modern America. And even these violent and chaotic acts may not result in any substantive change.
When it comes to expressing political opinions, there’s an array of options available to the modern American citizen. On one end of the spectrum we have violent revolution, complete with beheadings, muskets, and epaulettes, when done right. On the other end of the spectrum is watching MSNBC in sweat pants while munching on Doritos. And somewhere in between those two extremes are things like marching in the streets and voting and marching in the streets and setting things on fire and passing legislation. And more people need to move into that middle zone even though it’s scary and disorganized and sometimes illegal. Because that is the difference between action and inaction, and that is how change eventually happens.
Writing a blog post is not action. Debating that racist guy who always comments on Facebook is not action. Using a hashtag is not action. And unfriending someone is not action. None of those things require you to leave your house and actually confront the very real social problems of modern America. Michael Brown’s death is one tiny data drop in a sea of information about police brutality, racism, violence and discrimination. It doesn’t matter, except as a catalyst. So learn about those big issues, decide where you stand and take action. Rioting may not be the most ideal strategy for effecting political change, but at the end of the day, burning down a building is a far more effective protest strategy than burning out your retinas behind a computer screen.