December 4, 2014

BARELY LEGAL: Mobilizing the Body Politic

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By EMMANUEL HIRAM ARNAUD

Earlier this year, in the wake of the Michael Brown shootings, many articles attempted to define, or redefine, activism within the lexicon of a more passive form of protest. Although less confrontational forms of protest are always a good tool for activism, I believe that we must go further than this in our everyday lives. I challenge students, and especially those wielding the power of the law, throughout this country to view their every step as a protest against the status quo, but furthermore, I ask that we view our positions critically and engage in more than a passive discussion of our ailments and present conditions. True, transcendent change within any nation-state requires an intrinsic metamorphosis within both the legal scheme that defines the parameters of our social contract, and the patterns of socialization that are inextricably linked to the legal process. In short, neither law nor social change, in isolation, will propel a population in any given direction. True change requires the development of both spheres. I believe that we can do several things to effectively incite meaningful change that leads to the fundamental paradigm shift that our country requires. A few of these actions include pure and substantive dialogue, holistic political activism and community building.

Transformative ideas are never singular in nature, but rather, flourish through a combination of encapsulated and understood experiences, which are then put into motion. This idea, known as “praxis,” is a common topic in the writings of Plato, Aristotle and Paulo Freire. As Freire noted, actors “must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection.”Our fragmented country, as reflected in the current heated political factions, created an embankment foreclosing the opportunity for the creation of real discourse. The impetus is on us, the citizen, to act as catapults and destroy that wall, and partake in holistic discourse with one another. As sociopolitical actors, we are not on a crusade; rather, we are on an exploratory expedition. I challenge you to engage in honest discussion with your peers. Discuss issues, no matter how small, in your local schools, classrooms, cafeterias, libraries, streets, Starbucks, in your Goldman Sachs elevator and your one floor non-profit. Open up new forms of pure and substantive dialogue. One simple way of doing this is reflecting upon, and demystifying, our own personal and social identities and realities. In essence, critically reflect on the current structures in your purview of society, and challenge those around you to do the same. However, we must do so with the idea in mind that we are never “right” about everything. We all have subjective experiences that inform our worldview. It is our duty to use these experiences for the progress of society. Do so with respect for other people’s ideas, and the reality that their ideas may compliment or enrich yours. This is a simple concept, however, it is one that is too often forgotten. We are brothers and sisters tied by the beautifully flawed neurology of humanity. We should treat ourselves as such, and promote honest discourse regardless of our comfort levels, in a respectful and intelligent fashion. Ask a question, be kind, be honest, enjoy truly symbiotic discourse and be open to change and the possibility of being wrong. Honest, substantive dialogue — it starts with us.

Another action is political activism. This begins with voting. As Alexis de Tocqueville simply put it, “everyone has the vote and this is an indirect contributor to law-making.” We entrust people we have never met with immense political power (or capital). However, we do not lose our political power through this delegation. We still have political power within our local political communities. I challenge you to attend your local school board meetings, your local town hall meetings, and speak up. Stay true to your values and challenge everything in order to better serve your community. However, our political activism does not stop there. We are all political actors within the local and national political economy. Whether it is in your workplace or your home, act in a way that serves whatever change you hope to see. Challenge microaggressions, and stand up for what you believe in not just in the classroom or at the voting booth, but in everyday interactions. Simply put: Our constitution endowed you as a sociopolitical actor; embody this role.

Finally, build bridges in your community. There are two easy steps to actualize this. First, get and stay involved in essential functions of your communities. This is easier than it sounds. I challenge you to take a peek at your town’s budget, and stay in tune with what is going on in your government by attending local meetings that are open to the public. Who watches the Watchmen? You do, and you should start doing it. Second, get involved in peaceful protests on issues that you care about. Through peaceful protests that garner media attention to issues that you care about, the political actors with the most say in decision-making may do something about that issue. Through protests and large gatherings you start creating bridges and networks with the people you meet. Protest, meet people, get your ideas out there, get them in the national spotlight and watch change unfold.

This is not, by any measure, an exhaustive list, or a nostrum for the nation’s smooth recovery. I only provide three ideas to help us get closer to seeing fundamental changes within our country, no matter what your political view is. I invite you to take this often forgotten call, and to not just live your life, but rather to take hold of your position as a sociopolitical actor.

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