I was recently in a meeting where courteous, educated and concerned citizens shared different perspectives on promoting the common good. I couldn’t help wondering whether gatherings of this sort might be evidence of incremental positive change, or whether, instead, part of what biblical folks might call “the saving remnant”–the relatively small segment of society that keeps the lamp of reason burning through dark ages.
One of my sons recently characterized my reactions to contemporary politics as “bipolar” noting that I alternate between despair over destructive stupidity to hopefulness sparked by emerging signs of rebellion against our “Gilded Age” status quo.
I’ve shared a good deal of the despair on this blog: the evidence of persistent, widespread racism; the efforts to roll back women’s rights; the descent of a once-responsible political party into fantasy, bigotry and anti-intellectualism; the systemic, legal and structural barriers to change; the growing gap between the rich and everyone else; the outsized influence of money in politics….and the list goes on.
When I focus on these aspects of our poltical/social landscape, it’s hard to be cheery and upbeat about the future.
But there are also emerging signs of change–signs that a challenge to the status quo may be in the offing. And there’s the fact that American history is filled with examples of such change.
Survey research provides evidence that younger Americans are less bigoted, more inclusive and far less in thrall to religious fundamentalism than their elders. The movement to raise the minimum wage is gaining traction. The dramatic change in public opinion on same-sex marriage should be a wake-up call to the proponents of all sorts of “traditional” stereotypes, not just of LGBT folks, but of women and African-Americans.
Rush Limbaugh continues to lose market share. Despite the anti-science posture of so many lawmakers, recent surveys show that 80% of Americans accept the reality of climate change and want government to do something about it.
And all around the country, people are taking to the streets to demand change. It isn’t just Ferguson and Baltimore protesting police excesses; it’s fast-food and hotel workers and Walmart employees demanding fair treatment and pay, and Moral Monday activists reproaching state-level lawmakers’ disregard for the common good (shades of the Social Gospel!). In Washington, it’s bipartisan recognition of the need to reform America’s criminal justice system. Here in Indiana, it was the overwhelming pushback to passage of RFRA (followed by the “Pence Must Go” signs still popping up all over the state).
While social media and the Internet can be used to create a bubble that reinforces our pre-existing world-views, they can also inform us of injustices we wouldn’t otherwise know about. They can connect us with others committed to change. The ubiquity of cellphone cameras allows documentation of events that were previously “he said/she said.” The same technologies that disorient and threaten my generation are allowing those who’ve grown up with them to create new kinds of communities.
The structural barriers to change are formidable, but entrenched privilege has been toppled before. I’d say it’s 50/50….and my mood at any given time depends upon which 50% I’m looking at.
Saving remnant? or Signs of emerging social change?