On October 22, I joined dozens of my fellow students in a walkout for Ferguson. We left our classrooms and marched down the streets of downtown, shouting at the top of our lungs for justice.
“INDICT! CONVICT! SEND THE KILLER COPS TO JAIL! THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY AS HELL!”
“MIKE BROWN MEANS WE GOT TO FIGHT BACK! MIKE BROWN MEANS WE GOT TO FIGHT BACK!”
“HANDS UP! DON’T SHOOT!”
But with every step I took, I was conflicted. To what end were we doing this? I felt like it was no more than a publicity stunt, resulting in no real change for the long list of victims of police brutality. I felt mocked as the police officers who represented the structural issue that we were standing against followed alongside us, preventing us from creating any real disruption.
I was frustrated from the beginning until the end of the protest. While a small group of people stayed behind to address similar incidents in Chicago, the majority of protesters left, returning to the comfort of our daily routines. I can still remember the feeling of disappointment in my stomach, knowing that the action ended without any real change.
As a student at Roosevelt University, I hear about social justice all the time. We talk about it in class regularly, and our student groups are active in many causes. Often, when I hear people talking about social justice, they talk about dismantling the systems that cause injustice. Other times, I hear people speaking about justice in terms of fact and reason, or in terms of morality and fair treatment. Advocates for justice and social change are very passionate about making change.
But as I see it, there is a whole lot of talk and not enough organization. To me, social justice is not an arbitrary concept and vision of progressive change, but an organized and strategic approach to changing or replacing the structures that contribute to the marginalization and oppression of groups, communities and environments.
I frequently see this problem on campus. Recently, I attended a meeting for one of the many student organizations at Roosevelt that focuses on some component of social justice action and activism. Going around the room, each person introduced themselves and what their vision and/or goal was for this semester. While a handful of people mentioned specific goals and directions to take the group’s activism, the vast majority of the room made passionate statements of “getting stuff done,” “making things happen” and “making the world a better place.” Although many people around me were getting very excited by the spirit and dedication expressed by these statements, I was grossly unsatisfied.
To me, social justice is not an arbitrary concept and vision of progressive change, but an organized and strategic approach to changing or replacing the structures that contribute to the marginalization and oppression of groups, communities and environments.
Don’t get me wrong, social movements need passionate people. Unfortunately though, these brief introductions reflected the same lack of attention to detail that I see in much of the activism regarding injustices in our community. That drive that those students had in that room is so important, but without a clear strategy, it has no effect.
Making social justice happen will often require fighting realistic battles, especially when it comes to the efforts of smaller, community- and student-based organizations. Sometimes that means we will have to tackle the smaller battles. Any trained community organizer knows that to make change you have to have a clear target, someone who can make the decision that will bring you closer to your overall vision of social justice. Making those people make the small changes to get the results you need requires a lot of time, research and dedication—and a lot more behind-the-scenes work than the visible marches that we see happening now.
We need not limit ourselves to just being passionate when the institutions we face show blatant disregard for us. We must not be satisfied with marching and standing up for what we believe in. Before we can truly see social justice, we have to move beyond the marches and the protests. We must be organized and strategic—more organized and strategic than our opponents—or else our cries for social justice will be nothing more than a dream deferred.
Our students marched today as part of the 19th annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. pic.twitter.com/9ZqjqQHU8d
— Roosevelt University (@RooseveltU) October 22, 2014