By Matt Johnson
Starting a Social Justice movement is only the first step towards justice, equity, opportunity, and liberty. As has been seen from past and present movements, it takes an initial spark or idea to start it, but it takes knowledge and dedication to mold it into a recognizable entity and it takes hard work and dedication to keep it moving as it gains ground. However, this is a general view, not specific details.
There are many things that should be considered during the initial steps of the movement. First, it is important to dentify who will take on the responsibilities of leaders and followers. In other words, it is important to identify strengths and weaknesses, talents and human capital. Second, it is important to identify the structure and the vision of the movement. Does the movement take on a traditional structure of the former social movements throughout American history or does it take on a new structure, solely autonomous in originality and application from its predecessors? Finally, what is the message? Who does the social justice movement engage? Will it engage liberals and conservatives alike, or will it proceed in a modern hyper-political bubble? The answers to these questions will facilitate the vision, direction, and success of a social justice movement.
During the early and middle 19th century, and during the legalization and federal enforcement of slavery, free black American men formed and participated in state and national conventions. The objective was to facilitate a moral argument and to appeal to the moral conscience of white Americans; that is, blacks are not lazy by nature, nor are they inherently inferior in intellect. This was called the moral-suasion argument. In fact, leaders such as Martin Delany and William Whipper also argued that if blacks did not drink or use drugs, if they educated themselves and invested in local business, then whites would approve and see them as equals and capable of participating in the system.
However, this movement was perpetuated by, represented by, and argued by men. These men were arguing the perspective of the male viewpoint. There was no discussion about women’s rights or women’s suffrage. There was no discussion about the rights of children or of the family. Such arguments derived from the perspective of not the wealthy and free, but from the slave perspective and the family. Great American leaders such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth gave voice to such oppression; that is, powerlessness, exploitation, marginalization, violence, and cultural imperialism, which were later organized into a comprehensive, theoretical model proposed by modern philosopher Iris Marion Young.
Other examples of American social justice movements took on this linear and discrete identity and argument, although there was more inclusion and representation in the ranks. For example, the Suffrage movement began in 1848 in Seneca Falls and continued until the 19th amendment was ratified into the constitution in 1920. Although this movement was supported by such progressives as President Theodore Roosevelt, it was a women’s movement and mostly white. Later in the 20th century, Dr. King marched beside both men and women in the deep south. White men and women supported this movement and some even gave their lives in the fight for civil rights and social justice but it was an American movement led by black men and supported by black women nonetheless. At that same time, author and American intellectual Angela Davis stood by and supported the Black Panther Party during the “Black Power” movement of the 1960’s, although it was mostly a patriarchal structure.
So again, does this social justice movement, take on a traditional structure or does it propose to organize a new and innovative format, one that is inclusive and representative of those who do experience the five modes of oppression stated earlier in this writing? Does it also propose to include those who are self-actualized to their own systemic privilege; that is, white, straight, male, and perceived Christian? And finally, does it propose to include those and/or perhaps propose to engage those cut from a conservative cloth?
This point is important to address because it shows the willingness, malleability, and curiosity to seek out and facilitate dialogue with those who may hold more traditional views. As difficult as this last point may be, it would be even more difficult to listen to a different point of view. But is this not the very definition of inclusion and tolerance? Is this not a progressive idea? As Jonathan Haidt discusses in his book The Righteous Mind, conservatives have a particular view of the world and liberals have a particular view of the world, and in today’s hyper-political environment, it may seem that there is not much over lap. As Haidt explains, conservatives tend to view tradition, authority, and sacredness as important; whereas, liberals tend to view fairness and tolerance as important.
But this does not mean that conservatives and liberals cannot hold opposing views, nor does it preclude some of both political leanings from holding both sets of views simultaneously. So would knowing about and considering such opposing views make a movement stronger or would it make a movement weaker? Or is the challenge derived from fear of questioning one’s own view of reality? No doubt it takes courage and strength to consider another point of view, but it also takes courage and strength to learn about and recognize history and messaging (a message will be critiqued and scrutinized – history is clear on this point).
Knowledge of history and messaging are important. But these two factors must be considered during the construction phase of organizing a social justice entity. Undoubtly, and after these two important factors are considered, they should be continually considered and reconsidered until all objectives are achieved, or until there is a failure in achieving such objectives. There is precedent for this action. All great leaders in history, to the knowledge of this author, read and were knowledgeable of those leaders who came before them, or who are present in their political arena. For example, it is proposed that General George S. Patton, during World War II, rode on top of his tank in North Africa after defeating Field Marshall Rommel and the German Panzers proclaiming, “[General] Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!”
Although this example has little to do with social justice today, its point should be salient in this argument. Reading is important, including ideas and arguments that are dissimilar or in opposition to one’s own ideas or view points of the world. This includes historical context, social ideas, economic ideas, political ideas, philosophical ideas, and today, scientific ideas. Knowledge truly is power; and from this starting point, a stable and constructive social justice movement can be established and put into motion.