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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Revolution in the pre-point-and-click era

Generations of activists fought hard for fairness and justice, even in those prehistoric days before the internet. —
Generations of activists fought hard for fairness and justice, even in those prehistoric times before the internet. — 123RF Stock Photo

Change is hard.

Real change? It’s even harder.

Think of this as a column about something I like to call “performative revolution,” a kind of revolution lite for those who want to be seen to be safely on the right side, but with the least amount of effort.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see people who seem to be absolutely convinced that the key to change is five or so minutes online every few days, checking the right boxes and making sure to repost and retweet the current version of the edgiest zeitgeist. Some even go so far as to describe themselves online as revolutionaries.

Does the sheer weight of “right-posting” work? To a degree — obviously, huge social media uptake gets noticed by politicians and decision-makers. Social media has given great power to organizers in countries that otherwise suppress mass dissent.

But it doesn’t really matter how wide a river is if it’s only a centimetre deep; if your dedication extends only to signing and sending online prewritten letters or marching on a provincial legislature once or twice a year (unless it’s too cold that day), it won’t take long for the powers-that-be to determine the real depth of your concern.

Determine and dismiss — I’m sure there are now paid bureaucrats or consultants whose job is to establish the real depth of concern in the current public theatre of issues.

Don’t get me wrong: internet social platforms are a powerful tool for grassroots organization, one that didn’t exist as recently as 15 years ago. But it also makes it easy for someone, with the absolute least amount of effort, to post all the right things and get on with their day.

It takes a special self-preciousness to declares yourselves as the holders of a monopoly on fairness and caring.

Revolution is heavy lifting. Constant work. Real drudgery, at times. And slow. It’s hard to conceive of the lifetimes it’s taken to get to where we are, a place where the equality of individuals is enshrined in a charter of rights.

Hard work can get things done. It can change attitudes, swing the great attitudinal pendulum just a little bit in the right direction — but it can also take years of work, watching two steps forward and one step back, yet finding the energy to carry on. (And, as hard as it may be for some to believe, social concern did exist before the internet.)

I find there’s a great tendency to look back and suggest that the current generation is the only one that actually is trying to make change; implicit in that is that anyone else is and was complicit with a sludge-like, bigoted, old-school status quo.

What people might not realize now is that huge societal change came about as a result of great personal sacrifice. I shake my head at how easily some among us now demean, deride and belittle the hard work of generations that fought for fairness and equality, as if that fight didn’t even exist. Ignoring that people worked, often alone and at the risk of a kind of personal loss that was far more easily dealt out by businesses and governments, to the point of near-exhaustion. They couldn’t just post “Protest at 11 — Retweet!” They actually had to depend on phone trees, where you got a call about a protest, and phoned four friends, who each phoned four more.

It takes a special self-preciousness to declare yourselves as the holders of a monopoly on fairness and caring, yet I see that every day: a disdain for anyone from an earlier generation. And sure, when I was young, I probably did the same thing.

But older activists can wear their battle scars with pride; I know many who get more done before breakfast than a dozen selfie-styled revolutionaries get done in a year.

Give them their due.

Never forget as you fight for change that you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.

Giants who fought the good fight, the long fight, the hard fight alone, long before the self-aggrandizement of selfies and social media.

You can still be the hero of your own narrative if you want. Just remember there are other narratives, too — narratives of harder work and greater risk than you might be able to even imagine.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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