He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.-- Martin Luther King, Jr.
I've written several articles recently here on Huffington Post suggesting why Americans should be mad. Some of the reasons given include unemployment, sexism, ageism, war, environmental concerns, health care, and more. There's no question that we're all quite mad, based on the sheer number of comments each of the posts received. The anger and frustration spewing from the comments is palpable, and understandably so. That's good, because anger can beget action.
However, another snapshot of America is also developing: Yes, we are angry about a lot of things... but we are not sure what to do about it. End result? We're not doing too much of anything. It's not that Americans are "complacent" because that would suggest satisfaction. Nor are we "indifferent " because there's no question that Americans feel very strongly about the issues. Perhaps we are weary... too weary to do too much about what truly matters, and too weary to make our voices heard.
We're overwhelmed with the details of our day-to-day lives: working, or looking for work; taking care of our families and our immediate communities; and just trying to live our lives. Understandable. But, based on discussions I've had and research I've read, if we don't turn anger into action, our dissatisfaction grows. Knowing that important issues (potential Medicare cuts, tax hikes, Equal Rights Amendment, oil leaks in our waters, lack of good jobs and so on) that affect our lives -- and potentially the lives of our children--are being debated and ultimately, decided by others, can fill us with anxiety. Not having a part in the discourse, or understanding what measures we can take to help right the wrongs, can cause stress, depression, and ultimately, unhappiness.
What's the solution?
A 2002 study from Great Britain indicated that taking part in protests and demonstrations can be good for your physical and mental health. According to Dr. John Drury, one of the researchers involved in the study:
Empowering events were almost without exception described as joyous occasions. Participants experienced a deep sense of happiness and even euphoria in being involved in protest events. Simply recounting the events in the interview brought a smile to the face of the interviewees. The take-home message from this research therefore might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only in the wider interest of social change but also for their own personal good.
We have a rich history of protesting in this country: against racism, for women's right to vote, opposition to the war in Viet Nam, even the Boston Tea Party in 1773. And of course, people and groups protest all the time, both in the streets and online, but they never seem to get enough of a mass to truly make a difference. One of the last effective American protest movements was the fight against apartheid in the late '80s, which was spearheaded mostly by college students, as was the anti-Viet Nam War movement. Where are our college students now? Do they not view the issues we are confronting serious and life-changing enough to get behind them? Do young women today not feel that securing the Equal Rights Amendment is essential to their future careers and earning potentials? Is the youth of America also weary? Or, do we have a completely different challenge on our hands: apathy born from living in a weary society?
I put this question out on Facebook, email, and Twitter:
With unemployment, soft job market, debt ceiling crisis, possible cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and the lack of support of the Equal Rights Amendment (among many other things we are mad about), why haven't Americans taken to the streets in droves, and what can we do about it?
Here are just a few of the responses, reprinted with permission:
I remember as a young teenager protesting the shootings at Kent State, the Vietnam War and other political and social injustices. Our music rang of protest and freedoms. We need the young people of today to get angry, get involved. It's their future as much as ours that is being yanked around. The pictures in the media are not ugly enough, the news on the television is sugarcoated and based on "reality" moments.--Vickie Stahl
I'm not sure it's complacent as much as I think a lot of it is because of the Internet, being online. People are spending all their time on line -- yeah, of course, we should be out on the streets, we should be marching & protesting & fighting for our rights & screaming & hollering & demanding. I think folks have traded the streets for the Internet. I think they're "social networking protesting right on Facebook, starting revolutions on line.--Amy Ferris
There is not one issue to focus all the discontent on, plus with our divisive political environment many are entrenched in uncompromising positions and few see that inequality and dominance by the top 1% affect us all. Anger is focused towards those who are different from us, e.g., anti-immigration laws, dismantling of protections for women, instead of towards the power elite in this country and the insane amounts of money spent lobbying for their elite interests.--Carol Schultz Vento
Perhaps the protest of the past has evolved to more on-line protesting? For example, it's much easier to rally people via Facebook and mass emails-- I certainly receive my share of political opinions and reactions via these venues. Does hitting the "like" button on FB mean you've actually done something? Perhaps committing to that particular cause in your head-- but is that enough? I'd be curious as to how many people take advantage of contacting their senators and congressmen via email/websites. The web is clearly great for communication, but it can't substitute for public actions.--Sally Prangley
The power of anger is mighty, indeed. The action that follows . . . is mightier still. What can you do?
Can we move our country from the Age of Apathy to the Age of Action? Yes . . . but not if we stand alone.
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman