“We’re left heartbroken yet again in the wake of deadly acts of violence against police and our fellow citizens. Our hearts go out to the loved ones of all those whose lives were taken.” said a note from Change.org that I found in my mailbox.
“Together, ” it went on to say, “we at Change.org reject the notion that violence is inevitable or must be tolerated. These are the times that can divide us, but we don’t have to take sides. If you believe in peace, understanding and justice, we are on the same side. We can make a choice to join one another in solidarity, and work together to build the world we want to live in. Right now.”
I read on eagerly for proposed solutions…
The week’s been hard, the letter went on to observe, referring to yet another spate of shootings , fresh on the heels of the Orlando Pulse nightclub killings , “But I’m also hopeful that we can find some solace by sharing our stories, and in working together to make change.”
Yes! What’s on the table?! I wondered, hopefully.
“I invite you to express your feelings and perspectives,” the next part read. “Share your stories and engage with other Change.org users by leaving a comment on this blog post. How did the news this week affect you? What actions do you think everyday people can take to address violence in our communities? What should we be working on together?”
Darn! And here I thought they knew!
I went to the website link where, as of this writing, nearly 1300 people have shared their comments, ranging from the poignant – “I just want the killings to stop!” – to the ridiculous “It’s a government conspiracy.”
“If you’re ready to put those perspectives into action, ” it says on the website, “we invite you to start a petition and share it with our community.”
Start a petition? That’s it?
I like Change.org, but we’re way past petitions here. Petitions and “thoughts and prayers” are not changing anything. What can we do to actually have an impact? Those of us who subscribe to Change.org and follow sites like the Southern Poverty Law Center, and all these similar great, reasonable, common sense and compassionate resources and groups are not the problem. We already stand together in solidarity for compassion and against violence; we care for one another and do the best we can where we are to be decent and kind, probably like the majority of folks in the world.
The question is: How do we get out there where the message needs to be heard, rather than commiserating among ourselves and endlessly consoling and reassuring one another? How do we get where change needs to happen among the violent and politically opportunistic minority who wield the power, money, weapons and authority to benefit from social chaos? How do we become feet on the ground instead of hashtags on the Internet?
What am I going to create a petition about? Less police brutality? No racial profiling? No violence on law enforcement? No hate crimes against people of color or LGBTQ individuals?
We need more than petitions. We need to make it loud for social justice and peace. We need to be present and accounted for in caring for each other, in speaking out for one another, and in using the common language of shared humanity in refusing to accept any of this any longer.
Because it’s been going on a really long time; think Colliseum, Inquisitions, the Crusades, tribal warfare, Holocaust, slavery and human trafficking, genocide … the list of human violence is as sadly endless as it timeless. Petitions and hashtags simply won’t cut it. What’s required is a systemic cultural sea change , a complete change of meme , as originally defined; not the variously iconic internet posters, but “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.”
It must become completely socially unacceptable within our American and larger human culture to hurt each other. It must become utterly unacceptable to allow our political leaders and all our civil servants, from local law enforcement to state and federal agencies, to grandstand, obfuscate, fuel hate through words and actions, and do end runs around common sense and the needs of the citizens they serve for their own self-serving agendas. We must refuse to be misdirected and divided by the smoke and mirrors of hateful rhetoric, simplistic over-generalizations and juvenile sensationalism from politicians and popular media alike.
And our political representatives must be held accountable through the will of informed voters who take back their power, and actually take the time to understand issues through a nonpartisan lens when our leaders do anything less than the public service for which they are elected, and for the public trust of which they are sworn to uphold.
We need to elevate the conversation everywhere. We need to look everyone we meet, every day, in the eye, and see ourselves there, and actually care. Because, as Walt Whitman said, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
The change we want to see has to be more than lip service. It has to be intentional, personal, engaged and active every single day.
Connect! Look into the eyes of the people you meet every day. Most of them are just like you. They have hopes, dreams, desires, needs, joys and sorrows. Take a minute – a couple of beats before you react or judge – to find that common ground and then stand firmly on it. Be slow to take offense, quick with a kind word or to lend a hand. Be the person who smiles instead of the one who doesn’t smile back. And speak out thoughtfully but firmly against intolerance, hate and injustice when you see it.
Somebody does have to do something about all this. Tag! We’re it.