Dissent: it’s a theme I’ve covered in this column all semester. I’ve discussed it in the context of hipster history (hipstory, I suppose) — bandanas, skinny jeans, flannel — they’ve all at some point been donned as signs of solidarity, as separation from and statement against the mainstream. But their meanings now have largely been stripped of significance and appropriated into the fashion of the contemporary hipster, leaving histories of rebellion in their wake hidden under the guise of — you guessed it — irony. And although individuals sporting this style may catch a lot of flak, hipsters are not what’s threatening our generation. Rather, they are indicative of a much bigger, much more harmful issue: complacency.
It is easy for us to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy as a result of our predecessors’ struggles. Because of this, it is even easier for us to assume that these struggles are over, that all those nasty “-isms” don’t exist, and that there is little to nothing left for us to fight or defend. We have watched the most radical generation in our nation’s history age fall into conservativism, and we have watched the generations after that follow their lead, assuming either that the fighting is done or that it is futile.
But there is a greater stirring in our lives. It is a wave of recognition that some things (many things) are still just not right. We are the most highly educated generation that our country has seen, and as a result, we recognize injustices — whether they be the inadvertent results of misinformation, or atrocities spurred by ignorance or motivated by hatred.
Our generation does not know exactly what it is fighting for; we do not have one single cause, but honestly, it’s nice to see someone care about anything anymore. The only thing worse than the passive aggressive Hobbesian nightmare that is Internet fighting is passive progressiveness — the ability to realize injustice but the inability to speak up or take action. Perhaps the dissident publication Adbusters said it best: “This is our decisive moment. Either we wallow in debt as passive observers of history and pray that technology will eventually solve all our problems or we actively seize power and deal with the consequences.”
Despite all the controversy we (as a community and a generation) have been experiencing (potentially the largest understatement of my AU career), I am more than proud to have participated in and witnessed the way that various communities have overcome their differences and united in response to that which they oppose.
We have realized that it is not about the differences in our personal solutions but about the greater problems that we all have in common.
No, it is not right that this unification happened at the personal expense of individuals, and no it is not right that anyone must feel responsible for cleaning up the mess that another person or another group has made, but the vigor of response has been simply admirable and nearly unprecedented. We have recognized that the solution is not to walk way from the problem, leaving it for someone else, the solution is to refuse to be silent until satisfied. Talk about “ideas into action,” eh — not bad, right, Kerwin?
We are recognizing that as long as there exists injustice for one, there is injustice for all of us — that once a group’s rights or ability to live safely are taken away, then all of ours are at stake. Yes, in fact, the dignity and safety of one is more important and more powerful than the hatred of others. This is an ideal, and we must fight to make it a reality or else we are being irresponsible to ourselves.
We can borrow from feminist rhetoric — as long as we live in this world, we are survivors, not victims of injustice, and we can either continue to live through it like nothing is wrong or we can take action to correct it. We cannot ask to see our vision realized any longer — we must demand it.
Our rights, our beliefs and our ideologies are not something to be taken and twisted into dirty words used to shame us by those who feel threatened by our liberation. These are ours to value and keep and to empower us to achieve greater things. You cannot claim to know fully (and therefore claim the right to speak on behalf of or judge) the suffering or indignities experienced by an oppressed group unless you yourself are a part of that group, but we can all do our best to act as allies and recognize what is wrong and how to help.
So yes, injustice is everyone’s problem, but I’ll acknowledge that activism isn’t everyone’s solution. Thankfully, we have been given the gift of diversity, so that individuals may utilize their different talents to affect change. Activism takes many different forms — it is not limited to the picket-sign protest of yester-generation. Activism comes down to who you are on the day-to-day, if you are living what you believe in. The opposite of hate isn’t love — it is justice, fairness and respect.
So if we’re truly going to be defending all those abstract nouns that we believe in so strongly, then all of us — journalists and activists (we have more in common than you think) — must commit to achieving it, not just by discussing it but by owning up to our responsibilities and living it — and there’s nothing ironic about that.