Tag Archives: problem-solving

Activism In The Time Of Social Distancing

I don’t know how other people respond to problems, but over the years, one thing I have learned about myself is the huge difference I experience between problems I can do something about and those I am powerless to remedy.

No matter how dire XYZ may be, if there are steps I can take to ameliorate it, I may be sad or frustrated or temporarily overwhelmed, but I don’t feel defeated. When there is no readily apparent action I can take that will solve whatever problem XYZ presents– or when the only actions I can take are highly unlikely to make a dent in the problem– my ulcer flares. My head hurts. I do feel defeated.

The current broken-ness of American governance is a prime example.

I doubt that I’m alone in that response, and it’s why so many of us get annoyed with comments that pooh-pooh the efficacy of get-out-the-vote campaigns and declare that those efforts aren’t nearly enough–without ever suggesting concrete alternative, effective actions in which individuals can engage.

Because everything we know about the Trump Administration is so awful–and because so many of us feel helpless and angry–I was really happy to come across an article in The Guardian focusing on what appears to be an explosion of new forms of activism in the time of the pandemic.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was experiencing unprecedented levels of mass mobilization. The decade from 2010 to 2019 saw more mass movements demanding radical change around the world than in any period since the second world war. Since the pandemic struck, however, street mobilization – mass demonstrations, rallies, protests, and sit-ins – has largely ground to an abrupt halt in places as diverse as India, Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Algeria and the United States.

The near cessation of street protests does not mean that people power has dissipated. We have been collecting data on the various methods that people have used to express solidarity or adapted to press for change in the midst of this crisis. In just several weeks’ time, we’ve identified nearly 100 distinct methods of non-violent action that include physical, virtual and hybrid actions – and we’re still counting. Far from condemning social movements to obsolescence, the pandemic – and governments’ responses to it – are spawning new tools, new strategies and new motivation to push for change.

The article lists a number of those “new tools”–car caravans, walkouts from workplaces, community mutual aid pods, crowdsourcing–and technical efforts like adaptation of drones to deliver supplies, disinfect common areas and monitor high-risk areas.

The article also notes that many “movements”–political and philanthropic alike– are moving their activities online, with digital rallies, teach-ins and information-sharing.

Although many of these methods may seem to have little visible impact, these activities are likely to strengthen civil society and highlight political and economic issues in urgent need of change. In Chile, women have launched a feminist emergency plan that includes coordinating caring duties and mutual support against gender-based violence. In Spain, more than 15,000 people have joined a rent strike this April demanding the suspension of rents during the lockdown. Many have engaged in dissent without leaving their homes. As the Washington Post recently highlighted, many youth activists are moving their weekly global climate strikes online, conducting tweetstorms, developing toolkits for civic action, organizing teach-ins and developing accessible websites about climate change. Organizers in the UK have developed a series of seminars on movement building and mutual aid. Groups engaged in these activities now will improve their capacity for impact and transformation once the global lockdown is behind us.

If, as the article suggests, movements around the world are adapting to remote organizing, “building their bases, sharpening their messaging, and planning strategies for what comes next,” perhaps the end result will be the creation of concrete, useful mechanisms available to citizens who want to make a difference.

In the interim, there is one thing we can definitely do that will make a difference: we desperately need to get out the vote.


Meanwhile, Back Home in Indiana….

It’s admittedly hard to take our eyes off the monumental train wreck in the nation’s capital, with each day bringing additional evidence that America as we have known it is being systematically dismantled– but things aren’t so reassuring on the home front, either.

The newly energized wing-nuts who populate our state legislature are proposing bills to criminalize abortion and allow unrestricted, unlicensed gun ownership. (“Step right up, ladies, gentlemen, psychopaths, domestic batterers… Here’s a lethal weapon for you, no questions asked…”)

Of course, Hoosiers are used to seeing our state lawmakers focus on social issues at the expense of humdrum things like infrastructure repair and job creation. In Indiana, it is at the municipal level, in the cities, where the genuine work of government must be done.

Case in point: The Indiana Business Journal recently reported on the extent of poverty that co-exists with the more visible prosperity in the City of Indianapolis.

  • From 2000 to 2014, the percentage of the population below the poverty level swelled 80 percent, from 11.9 percent to 21.4 percent.
  • From 1999 to 2014, inflation-adjusted household incomes fell at least 10 percent in 75 percent of the city’s census tracts. Inflation-adjusted incomes fell at least 30 percent in 48 percent of the tracts. In contrast, only 5.9 percent of tracts reported an increase in inflation-adjusted household incomes.

As the IBJ editorialized, addressing our pockets of poverty will take a concerted push and the involvement of many stakeholders in business, education, government and the not-for-profit community.

As the editorial also noted, that involvement–and that stakeholder collaboration–is underway. Mayor Hogsett’s initiative, EmployIndy, is focusing on assisting low- and mid-skilled workers with a mix of job training and career planning that should improve their employment prospects . The Central Indiana Community Partnership is increasing the reach of Ascend Indiana, an initiative that connects employers with skilled workers and helps with training to provide workers with those needed skills.

Then there’s the recently approved transit referendum—which clears the way for the City-County Council to impose an income tax to improve bus service. Right now, only 33 percent of Marion County jobs can be reached via transit in 90 minutes—a huge impediment to improving the job prospects of the unemployed and underemployed.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I will refrain from predicting the success or failure of this coordinated effort, but I will state what should be obvious: this is the way issues are addressed in a rational society.

The nature and extent of a problem should be established by credible research. Research and analysis should identify barriers to solving the problem–in this case, inadequate education or skills, lack of transportation to job sites, and lack of access to information about jobs. Co-ordinated public and private efforts should then be directed at removing the identified barriers.

This approach relies upon a consensus that poverty negatively affects everyone in a community, not just those who are in need, and upon a recognition that there are no magic bullets or bumper-sticker solutions–that ameliorating poverty will take time, resources and hard work.

What a contrast to the approaches being promoted by the “lunatic caucuses” of both the U.S. Congress and Indiana Statehouse, and by the incoming Executive branch clown show. Both are populated by people who consider research “elitist” and knowledge unnecessary, who prefer privatizing/contracting out to the hard work required by partnerships with responsible private-sector organizations, and who consistently privilege ideology over evidence.

We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.