Progress happens in small steps. I’m just not so sure anymore. I’ve been in that camp for a long time, thinking that small changes will move toward the final goal. However, it is getting increasingly hard to see the small changes as contributing to the final big change of an equitable society.
I found myself saying something the other day and as soon as the words came out of my mouth I was questioning the whole idea of progress. A young friend of mine was telling me a story of her first professional position and what she was facing. I responded, “That same thing happened to my grandma. But at least now you have the right to call a lawyer.” What?!?! My grandmother would be 77 years older than this young woman—77 years. So, the progress that we can find in a 77-year difference is now you can pick up the phone and call someone? Neither of us were hopeful that if she called a lawyer things would stop. Moreover, we could only think of the things that would end up worse for her if she called a lawyer. She’d go broke paying for the lawyer, she would get a terrible reputation as a litigious employee, if she lost it would likely get worse, and if she won there would be backlash.
Oh, the backlash! That is really what is on my heart right now. As I continue to think about our small changes, our progress, I’m reminded of how each change brings a backlash. How when the social justice movement rejoices at change, it is followed by hate, violence, coercion and blame from others. I was first introduced to this tragic phenomenon when in college I read Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I read that book and each chapter read like an aha moment for me. It brought to my mind the similarity of response she discussed for feminism to several different social justice movements. That was almost 18 years ago and today I’m feeling the full force of hate, violence, coercion and blame.
I’m wondering, why is there so much backlash? Our progress hasn’t been so huge that folks should be running scared to these tactics. We’ve been stoked in incrementalism. It has been small, itty-bitty, changes. And even as these small moves toward progress happen we’re limited in how much we can access the change. I was reminded when we were celebrating the 96th Anniversary of the Women’s Right to Vote this year the backlash that followed the Constitutional Amendment. Hate, violence, coercion and blame aimed at people of color for expecting that they could exercise their constitutionally provided right to vote. I was reminded last year when SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality and soon after I heard news stories of violence in LGBTQ bars. I’ve been reminded this week in my conversations with DREAMers about their fears. And, as I watched #NODAPL protesters at Standing Rock be hosed down, way too familiar to the images of Civil Rights activists hosed down in the 60s.
Are the small changes leading to progress toward the final goal? Or, are we spinning on the hamster wheel feeling like we’re moving forward, but actually, stuck in the same place? Is the answer to forget incrementalism and call for full equity, immediately, all at once, for all? No, now I’m reminded that I’ve seen that as well too, and it was shut down by the same hate, violence, coercion and blame. Let’s begin challenging the backlash, holding it up to a mirror, bringing it into the light. My first call is for media literacy. No, my shout and demand is for media literacy. Let us each make it a priority to consider who produces the news and entertainment. Let us encourage the deconstruction of media narratives that influence social hierarchies. Let us create space for independent thought in independent media. Counter the hate, violence, coercion and blame.
What is your first shout and demand for?