New Ways To Fight For Social Justice

February 21, 2009 at 8:14 am | Posted in Ford Fellow, Youth | Leave a comment

Days of student sit-ins and large protests are not long gone but are few and far between. While we often associate fighting for social justice and civil rights with images from the Civil Rights era, images of homemade posters and signs, folks walking hand-in-hand, groups of unarmed civilians faced with billy clubs, tear gas and shields, we are now well into a new era of expression and protest.

Especially with the latest presidential election—where hip-hop artists and spoken-word poets invaded television screens and your personal computers—it is obvious that there are new ways to fight social justice. The mass media has taken on a new turn, where messages are no longer most-effectively delivered through television or radio, but through the Internet.

Take, for example, the “Yes We Can” video released onto Youtube in early 2008. The video has over 1.3 million views and is a conglomeration of different voices found across Hollywood, and likely America. The voices range from that of Will.I.Am, John Legend, and Kate Walsh from “Private Practice;” there’s even a message communicated in American Sign Language.

While music has long been used as a way to move people (think Bob Dylan), spoken word has taken up popularity with shows like Def-Jam and poets utilizing the free World Wide Web to get their art form and message across the globe. Look at Kelly Tsai’s video, “Black White Whatever,” which addresses the necessity of breaking from the usual black-white binary used to discuss race relations in the US.

Or what about the movie “V for Vendetta,” starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, based on the graphic novel? It’s not just a movie where you can see Natalie Portman shave her head, but it’s also a movie that calls upon citizens to evaluate their individual roles in society. Of course, you may have missed that message if you only thought that the movie was simply a movie—nothing more, nothing less.

Our generation is not simply drawn to media that challenges us to think about this, that, and the other related to our status in society and in the world–we demand it. We crave for spoken word poets like Talib Kweli, hip-hop artists like Common, actors and actresses, directors and filmmakers, theatre groups like Second City, to name a few.

Surely performance art is not everyone’s forte, but it does scream the message that you need to find where you fit in, where you can best fight for social justice. Not everyone is able to pick up a microphone and move a nation, but there is something that you are good at that will contribute to the cause.

Into technology? Help non-profits utilize the Internet, Excel, and other programs to become more efficient, effective, and relevant.

Like to cook? Volunteer at a soup kitchen or look for groups like “Cooking with Kids” to give some time to growing minds and tummies.

See yourself being in school forever? Participate in research, look for faculty members that inspire you to use your academics for the betterment of society, and become one of the professors who has that crazy adjunct-tenure position.

Bottom line – there is a place for you. That place is doing what you do best with the purpose of “doing good.” If you are still having trouble, let’s chat.

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