Did you know that today is World Day of Social Justice?
You do now. If you happen to be a delegate in the United Nations General Assembly, wherein World Day of Social Justice originated back in 2007, you probably have big social justice-y plans for today. For the rest of us, however, it’s can be a difficult holiday to know how to observe. In light of this, I’ve compiled five quick and semi-painless ways that you can fight for social justice today and every day.
1. Don’t be afraid to call out injustice when you see it
In the digital age, this is easier to do than ever before. When an Applebee’s customer stiffed his waitress her 18% gratuity earlier this year, her colleague posted the offending receipt on Reddit and incited a national dialogue about the current minimum wage for tipped employees, which is in dire need of adjustment.
Websites like Hollaback! provide a cathartic platform for women to call out street harassers and to advocate feminist culture change. The Obama administration’s “We the People” website gives citizens a way to crowd source their demands all the way to the White House through online petitions. And, love it or hate it, WikiLeaks continues to crusade for government transparency and accountability. With all of the digital media technology we have at our fingertips, there’s no excuse not to tap into the infinite opportunities for social justice advocacy.
2. Put your money where your mouth is
Educate yourself about the companies you support and make sure you can live with your choices. Too many corporations continue to perpetrate a myriad of human rights abuses and ethical breeches that would undoubtedly provoke some nationwide soul searching if only more people were made aware.
GoodGuide is an online database that assesses over 100,000 consumer products with regard to a wide variety of criteria, including human/labor rights practices and environmental impact. Their smartphone app and custom web browser toolbar make for handy shopping companions. Obviously not all of us can’t afford to buy fair trade all or even most of the time, but we can do our part to find tangible ways to make our consumption habits more socially conscious.
Seriously. Until I started working in a congressional office, I was under the impression that no one in the federal government saw or cared about constituent comments, but those calls/emails/letters actually do go a long way.
Yes, you will get a canned form letter in response, but don’t let that discourage you. At the very least, that form letter means that someone in that office read your comment and took the time to add it to the database of compiled constituent concerns about a particular issue. At some point, in some aggregated format, your congressperson will see your opinion and take it into account. This goes double for state and local elected representatives.
4. When calling your members of Congress, keep in mind that you don’t win extra points for verbosity
The only thing that matters at the end of the day is the number of positive and negative comments an issue has received. All you have to do is briefly state the reason for your call, give the staffer your address (so they can send you that thoughtful form letter), and ask that he or she pass along your support/concern to the congressperson. It literally takes 30 seconds.
5. Finally, be courteous! There’s no need (and usually no reason) to be hostile to the member’s staff
I call my Congressman multiple times a month when Congress is in session. He and I agree on absolutely nothing, but I’m still pretty chatty with his interns. So phone in your support for VAWA, or the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, or even the reauthorization of the African Elephant Conservation Act – whatever it is that resonates with your vision of social justice. (GovTrack is a great resource for staying up to date on bills that are coming down the pike). Never underestimate the power of letting your representative know that you’re watching.
It's also important to acknowledge your privilege and keep it in check. If you are reading this, you are privileged in some way. If you are white, wealthy, male, straight, able-bodied, educated, or healthy, you have privilege. There is nothing wrong with having privilege, but problems arise when we are blinded by it to such a point that we cannot acknowledge our own complicity in systems of oppression. Acknowledging privilege can be difficult, but it’s a necessary precondition for meaningful social justice advocacy.
Beware of injustice burnout. This is a big one. Too many bright, passionate people fall prey to the fallacy that nothing they do matters and that no substantive change is ever possible, especially where issues of social change are concerned. Injustice burnout is the first leg on a long journey toward apathy, so take steps to avoid it. Remember to take personal wellness breaks. Turn off the news for a day. Don’t get mired in flame wars with anonymous internet trolls. Have a sense of humor. Go on a bike ride. Do whatever you have to do to keep yourself engaged, because as Van Jones put it at the Keystone XL pipeline protest last weekend, “if you don’t fight for what you want, you deserve what you get.”
That's all I've got for now. Have anything to add? Leave it in the comments.