Warning: a lot of passionate ranting ahead. Every time I log onto my Facebook feed, it seems, people are saying the world is ending. The world in general, the world as we know it, the way society functions. So many things are ending. The “world is ending” so often in fact, that I’m rather constantly surprised it’s still spinning. People wanting to live lifestyles outside what society considers the norm, lifestyles that harm no one are “ending the country’s morality” and clearly, ISIS is going to use non-existent military power to take over the White House. (Note: I am not in any way trying to underplay the atrocities ISIS has commited against Christians, Muslims, and basically anyone who opposes them. What they’re doing is flat out horrific and something needs to be done by an international coalition. But people like Fox News perpetuating the cycle of terror about them somehow coming over to the U.S. and taking over is kind of insane. This is not the end of days.) Some people compare all Muslims to ISIS, who is so extremist that even Al-Qaeda stepped away, while those same people would definitely be furious if someone said all Christians were as hateful as the Westboro Baptist Church. Neither is true, and speaking in such an extremist way is helpful to nothing and no one. Somehow, in the eyes of the alarmist right wing media outlets, the concern over ISIS lies in some amorphous threat of the apocalypse they’ll bring to America instead of worrying about how to help the people who are ACTIVELY being hurt and murdered. I’ve seen arguments that workers asking for a higher minimum wage will crash the economy and send us into a depression like we’ve never seen, that it will “ruin jobs” and “spike unemployment” yet the brokers on Wall-Street who caused so many of the problems in 2008 are excused, corporations are considered people, people whose CEOs make billions while their workers live at or near the poverty line.
When I hear “the world is ending” what I think people mean is “the power structure I’m used to is being toppled and I’m furious and uncomfortable.” So what’s easier than keeping people in perpetual fear of not even just terror attacks ike 9/11, but the idea that somehow the terrorists will take over the country as a whole? What’s easier than pitting the middle class against the poor in a massive game of class warfare so only the wealthy profit? Instead of looking for a solution to actively help the people being tormented by ISIS, we teeter on the edge of another facet of the War on Terror, plunging once again into a crisis in the Middle East. A crisis that it seems we played a part in making worse, like we’ve done several times before:
ISIS is a terrible, terrible thing and it’s scary, but how long are we going to live in this cycle of war, terror, and the military industrial complex where rich men profit from war until we try something else? How can we even tell what constitutes a just war with this cycle always ongoing?
When will we reach a day that women aren’t threatened with having nude pictures leaked online in retribution for speaking out about feminism, like Emma Watson was after she gave a stirring speech at the UN?:
When will we reach a day that black men aren’t shot dead in the street, unnarmed? A day where people from all parts of the LGBTQA community can live openly and without fear of violence and social shunning? Some people will tell you feminism itself is ruining the world, that racism is dead. But usually those same people, the people shouting at those who are only trying to forge a progressive, more equal path forward, are the ones ruining things. The ones silencing voices, creating enemies of friends and turning people against each other so they themselves can feign innnocence and slip under the radar while we’re al busy shouting and blaming one another. We can’t let them. We can’t let that poison seep into us so that we’ll ignore the real villains.
Why do you think literally every social movement ever was condemned at first and then history wipes that bit away so it looks all nice and squeaky clean, like every person who stood up for something that shifted society wasn’t once called an insane radical and told to stand down? As the housing activist I heard speak at the Society of American Archivists conference said, what’s radical one year will be mainstream the next, and people will choose to forget they ever condemned it.
On the flip side, I’ve noticed another trend that goes a bit hand in hand with this: when people DO rise up against issues (like, global climate change, which eventually DOES have the power to change the world as we know it) they’re smacked down either as radicals or by the most irritating phrase on the face of the earth, “well there’s nothing you can do about it ANYWAY.” Look, I get it: the world is a damn messy place. It’s HARD. Bad things happen and sometimes we don’t win the battles. But we should focus on the war, because you know what? There ARE people doing things to help the world and make it a better place, and it IS working. For instance, if you have a few minutes, have a listen to Emma Watson’s aforementioned speech:
Check out John Oliver spreading the word about income inequality:
Look at Laverne Cox standing up for the rights of transgender people:
Read about the massive rally for climate change that took place a few days ago:
Look back through human history and see how many other times people have thought “the world as we know it is ending.” There have been world wars, famine, plagues, terrorism, any kind of natural disaster and yet somehow, the world has kept on spinning, somehow, humanity has managed to progress, to DO better. Has humanity done perfectly? Decidely not. But we are TRYING. Look at one of the biggest social movements in recent memory, the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. People put aside their fear, they quieted pessimism, and they DID something. I’m sure there were people then who said it was impossible to end segregation, that people who thought they could end it were shouted down as radicals. It goes without saying that there were people who didn’t WANT it to end. But it did.
(This is not to simplify racism and deem it solved, because it’s certainly not, as the events in Ferguson, among many others, make clear. But it was huge progress.)
In that same vein, where would we be if the suffragettes had walked away from the push to gain women the right to vote? What if they’d simply said “well, it won’t EVER work, so why do anything?” We would decidedly not be where we are now.
We have not suddenly reached some kind of precipice in the modern age where we can do and change nothing, because that power lies in our hands. The world changes all the time, but the common factor is that humanity always stands up, no matter the year, the decade, or the century. Banding together is so, so important, across lines of gender, race, nationality, sexuality, class, and any kind of variable. Opressed voices must be heard and listened to. I talk about Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables a lot on this blog, and it’s because it flat out changed my life in ways it would take hours to elaborate on. This quote from one of Hugo’s letters to his Italian publisher, is a pretty excellent example of why:
You are right, sir, when you tell me that Les Misérables is written for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. It is addressed to England as well as to Spain, to Italy as well as to France, to Germany as well as to Ireland, to Republics which have slaves as well as to Empires which have serfs. Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map. In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: “Open to me, I come for you.”
One of Hugo’s biggest themes is the idea that every revolution matters, every small rebellion is a step in the right direction even if it’s lost, even if it fails, because every step toward progress, liberty, and equality inspire the generations after, and that’s how victory comes. Even the tiniest revolution matters, even if it’s just you looking in your own mirror and saying that you won’t stand for it anymore. I so often either hear “well there’s nothing WRONG those people are crazy” or I hear “well the world is too fucked up, we can’t do anything anyway” and neither attitude is productive toward making progress because things ARE wrong but we CAN do something about it. There’s certainly no way it will be easy, and as has been obviously proven, there are obstacles and it will take bravery and endurance. Sometimes we’ll falter and need a rest before getting back up again. Sometimes we’ll get knocked down and it will hurt. But it’s worth it. And we can’t be quiet about it. People want you to protest in just the right way, they want you to stuff your anger and stuff your compassion and your feeling and these days, they’d like you to stuff your facts, too.
Don’t do it.
Read articles. Share them. Write and spread the word, empower yourself and empower others. Draw and create art. Tweet things and share things on tumblr and Facebook and social media. Protest. VOTE. Take your talents and your drive and use them in whatever form they take, because every facet is important, and it takes all kinds.
As the great band Fall Out Boy says in their song “Save Rock and Roll” where they collaborated with Elton John, “In a world full of the word yes, I’m here to scream…no.” Stand up. Say no. And don’t let anyone make you feel small.