Today I want to take a brief critical look back at my column from two weeks ago, “Building the revolution on empathy.” I think that the writing I’ve done so far on the topic of revolution/widespread social change has been accurate in many ways, but it’s lacked applicability and, at times, critical perspective. Specifically, though human empathy is critical, there is a whole lot more to widespread political change than just that. In the last few weeks I’ve been reading books and working with organizations that have given me a wider window into the world of activism and social change. These experiences have made me realize how little I really know. They’ve also given me hope for our way forward.
Because we can be certain that as we graduate and move on to do amazing things after Knox, we’ll need a better understanding of that way forward. It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that the world around us is merely a brief snapshot in time, a framed picture of a ship about to plunge over a waterfall; a ship that appears, for all the world, to be motionless and serene. We are facing immense struggles in the future, however, which are already hitting home elsewhere in the world.
Food supply shocks in the Global South have been increasing in number along with the erratic weather, in patterns that will increase and eventually reach the privileged few living in the West. Michael Klare took care to note this in his April 2013 column for Al Jazeera: “The earth is already shifting under you. Whether you know it or not, you are on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.”
Dystopian trends are occurring not just in the realm of climate. Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap” points out that as crime rates in the USA have been falling, poverty rates have risen and our prison population underwent an explosive doubling, from 1 up to 2 million people, in the two decades between 1991 to 2012. Hidden behind bars are the victims of a rising order that makes profit from the subjugation of the poor and people of color.
As all of this is happening, the U.S. is becoming steadily more and more influenced by the interests of the powerful few, with decision after decision from the Supreme Court allowing money an even larger role in elections.
I believe that we’re fast approaching a moment of critical mass when these kinds of problems will no longer be able to hide behind the walls of privilege built in a divided society. Even within the next 30 years, ecological disaster will percolate the consciousness of the U.S. public in a radical new way.
If we capitalize on its arrival and emphasize that it is a wake-up call to the nature of our wider social breakdown, we may yet be able to use the crisis as an opportunity to pull ourselves together and set our society in a better direction. This is the hope of the myriad social movements that have begun to sprout across the U.S. in the wake of Occupy, from large ones like 99Rise to smaller ones like the Maypop Collective in Philadelphia. Encapsulated in each new movement is the dream of a changed society where every person and community will have the freedom of building the life they want for themselves and their society. I believe that these movements hold real promise for the future of our world.
I had mentioned that one thing I need to do is make my columns more specific, and I ended up writing another generally focused column. But I think this one hit the nail pretty well on one of the evolving focuses of my writing: namely, that I want to raise consciousness around the immense crisis our world is facing, and our potential to meet it with preparedness and imagination. This isn’t easy, not least because the important topics here are many and broad. The answers are out there, however, and in each of us. I’m excited to keep exploring them.