Nobody knows when it began, but it was first acknowledged broadly in 2011 with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In 2012, it was Fast Food Forward and the Fight for 15. In 2013, it was Walmart Strikers and the election of Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council. Ferguson dominated 2014, and it looks like Leelah Alcorn has claimed early 2015.
Of course, I’m leaving out dozens, if not hundreds, of catalysts for the steady increase in American protests and simply focusing on some of the more popular milestones. The real point is that we’re taking to the streets in numbers not seen since Vietnam and the peak of the Civil Rights movement. Hundreds of thousands of protests, not just in the United States but across the world, calling out struggle and demanding something better in the United States.
Those who’ve stood up have been those most strongly affected by struggles: People of color, women, trans* people, the working poor, etc. They’ve created grassroots movements to demand general or specific changes in our culture, in our laws, in our institutions, and they are feeling more empowered than ever… not because they’re finding a receptive society, but because they’re realizing that they are loud enough to overpower a defiant society.
Reactionaries abound. Last year was the year of #NotAllMen, the year of “thugs,” the year of GamerGate. Protesters were “rioters.” Statistics were “race baiting.” Demands for accountability were met with demands to “respect and obey authority.” The all-too-familiar refrain of “get a job” rang through the sidestreets as protesters blocked the main road in an effort to disrupt a broken country.
What do they want? They aren’t looking to bring back slavery or send women back to the kitchen. Reactionaries aren’t necessarily against our causes, but their desire to remain comfortable is threatened by the disruption and challenges to authority that our movement requires to live and succeed. They’re afraid that the status quo will be destroyed and that their lives could be thrown into a state of disarray. They fear general strikes shutting down commerce, mass protests shutting down the road to the grocery store when the cabinets are empty, civil disobedience resulting in National Guardsmen firing shots like they did at Kent State. They fear the discomfort of a revolutionary society, and it’s a learned fear that will be hard to overcome.
What do we want? We want to fix the problems no matter what it takes to get there. With that in mind, here’s my 2015 open letter to my friends and family who fear the discomfort of a revolution:
In 2015, there are some things I don’t want to see or hear anymore. As a society progresses, we outgrow these things, and we become better through letting them go.
Politics is not too controversial, too pointless, or too boring. Politics is the shape of your society, your job, your family, your life. Politics should be central to your thoughts and actions, and should hold a strong place in your conversations. Fears of offending your great-uncle should be forgotten. The world doesn’t progress by appeasing the past, and his views on how easy slaves really had it have no place in 2015. State your views loudly, and back them up with activism.
Protest is not violence, it is not troublemakers rioting in your city, it is not unemployed thugs trying to loot your small business. Protest is the single most powerful act we have to make change, and throughout centuries, has been used effectively not just in the development of our nation, but across the world to build a better society. We have jobs, we have lives, we have families, we have things to get done… but first, we have a world to change. You can join us, you can start another movement of your own, or you can stay home and do nothing, but please get over your calls to “get a job.” You know I am a protester, and you know I work.
Civil disobedience is not ruining your country, your city, or your life. It may be ruining your day, but frankly, that’s the point. When you see us on the highway, it means we feel so strongly about the injustice in our country that we are willing to risk arrest and serious injury to help others understand and feel the frustration of a broken system. Park your car, get out, and come talk to us. Figure out what we represent and what we want, and if you feel like we make a good case, disrupt your own day and join us. If not, be happy we live in a country where we can stand up like this and just know we’ll be out of the way soon enough. It’s a small price to pay for changing the world. And MLK was a big fan of civil disobedience, so stop confusing “peaceful” with “lawful.” Our own police departments have confirmed that law and peace are often mutually exclusive.
If I have to sum it up in one short phrase, in 2015, I simply want you to give a shit. If you can give a shit, it will become much easier to stand up for your views, and to stand against injustice wherever you see it. Talk about politics, piss people off, disrupt, disobey… just give a shit.
Don’t write off the folks who just want to stay comfortable. If we continue to agitate and take away their ability to pretend this isn’t happening, eventually they will embrace the concept of speaking up and standing up, and they will help our society progress even more in 2015.