Do As I Say Not As I Do
As a social worker and longtime social justice advocate, I have been carefully watching the Occupy Wall Street movement and related events. I am torn as I write this, between wanting to discuss the implictions of social media for social justice and social advocacy and also looking at the response to the Occupy Wall Street protests, which is actually a response to freedom of speech, the right to gather, the right to dissent and peaceful protest – the right to advocate for social change.
Never being one to pick between two equally as compelling choices, I will write a little about both things.
I will begin by saying I feel immensely privileged by the ease which I can find out information from across the world, and bear witness to (and participate in) what has certainly become a global movement to not only encourage economic democracy, but also to champion a variety of inter-related social justice causes. Of the many, many social media stories that captured my attention in the past couple weeks, I include:
1) The video footage available on Youtube, widely posted across citizen journalist and news blogs, FaceBook and Twitter showing the brutal police crackdown against peaceful student (faculty supported) protesters at two American universities.
2) The call on University Heads To Declare Their Campuses Safe Protest Zones that arrived via my RSS feed to the Feminist Philosopher’s blog – and their sharing of the Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi written by Assistant Professor Nathan Brown, University of California at Davis calling for her immediate resignation for, not only failing to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis, but for also being the primary threat to the safety of those same students.
3) Last but not least, the MOXNews’ Olbermann interview (via YouTube) of Dorli Rainey, an 84 year old social activist who was pepper sprayed by Seattle police this week.
Occupy Wall Street, whether we approve of it or not, has certainly mobilized public attention in a way that more planned and organized attempts have been unable to do. The discourse has changed. We are talking about and thinking about economic disparity – we are talking about fairness and equity, marginalization and oppression; we are talking about freedom of speech, the right to gather or assemble peacefully, the right to political and social dissent, the right and obligation to seek social justice. We’re talking about control over the media, the disappointment of mainstream media coverage and the rise of citizen journalism. It’s been awhile since we have had these social justice discussions, especially on such a massive, global scale. As far as I am concerned, no matter what happens from here, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been for these reasons, if no others, a success.
Apart from the obvious links to the global movement to put social justice issues front and center and the amazing ease through which we are able to educate ourselves about issues and the things that are happening across the world – there’s something else I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been thinking about the importance of social justice and advocacy in our work as child protection practitioners. I know I am singing to the choir when I say that many MANY of the children, young people and families we work with, will be actively struggling with issues of marginalization, oppression and social inequity. We need to know how to encourage and support social change, in our world, in our practice and with the families we work with.
But how do we learn activism and advocacy?
Surely our schools should be places where students can gather together, question, challenge, even yes, demonstrate or protest peacefully. They should be places where such processes are actively modeled, supported and encouraged by the faculty. They should be places where we are raising strong minds and brave hearts. So, what does it mean when we see the police crackdowns against University staff and students for peacefully protesting? What does it mean when students tell us that there is no room to challenge what they are being taught or to think outside of the boxes we put them in?
We want practitioners to be strong advocates, we want them to champion and fight for social justice. The question is, where do they learn this? Who do they learn it from?
Recent events such as those I have raised above, would suggest that we have a long way to go when we think about what sort of education and experience makes for creating a good advocate. Recent events would suggest that there is plenty of room for discussions about freedom to assemble, freedom of speech, freedom to dissent; especially when we do not even actually have those rights.
Training and Sector Development Manager – PeakCare Queensland