Anhvu Buchanan and Safiya Martinez
welcome poet Arisa White to
the Living Room Reading Series
I’ve been reading at a variety of events during the past month, and it’s a good feeling, knowing that someone’s hearing my words, especially in those poems I’ve written with social change in mind.
I have to admit, with all of the action that’s been going on lately at the Occupy protests, I’ve had to take a step back and examine my own feelings about how to go about creating social change. Like many others, I had my doubts when Occupy began, wondering what, exactly, the protesters were setting out to accomplish, and whether or not this was the right way to go about getting it. Still, there’s something about knowing that people are out there making a direct call for change, risking their own safety to stand face to face with the system I find so flawed, that makes me wonder if I’m the one with the wrong idea about how to make change. Sure, I believe in the power of words, but am I really doing all that I can to make a difference?
If nothing else, these protests are creating some very important conversations. Even those who wonder skeptically about what this is all about are forced to take a moment to try to figure that out, which requires listening to others and probably hearing from some kind of perspective they’d never considered before. I feel that I’ve been learning a lot about social change recently. Here are some of my insights:
Change is a direction, not a destination. I heard, at one point, a simple explanation as to why Occupy’s goals may seem a little unclear – “This is a movement, not a campaign.” It makes sense that there is no end point at which all demands will be met, because the Occupy movement isn’t calling for a specific law to pass or leader to be elected, but for an entire shift in our priorities, from profits to people, as we realize just how many folks are suffering under our system the way it is today. The protesters are accomplishing something every day, as they create conversations and prompt everyone to consider, if even just for a second, what the world would be like as they envision it. Whispers of revolution show that yes, the change they aim for is huge, not just for our current climate but for many days after today.
Anyone can create this kind of change. Okay, so maybe this isn’t just a recent insight, as I’ve been blogging about it for over a year. But it’s become so much clearer to me lately. If all of us are part of the system that needs to change, that means that each of us can make simple changes in our own lives to make a difference. Check out this list, for example, of 11 Things You Can Do to contribute. And, of course, my view is that we all have power within our own bodies – we can write, dance, or create other forms of art to add strength to the movement. Of course I’m not the only one who knows this – read Michele Elam’s “How art propels Occupy Wall Street.”
We can’t have thoughts of change without thinking critically. Again, not an entirely new insight, but one that’s been particularly relevant. Between the slant of the media and the influence of police, it can be hard for those who aren’t on the front lines to get a clear picture of what’s really going on. So let’s remember to think critically, to get our news from the people and not the pundits, and to resist blindly swallowing anything we hear from any side of the situation. Remember that this movement is still learning about its body as it moves along, so yes, mistakes will be made, adjustments will be necessary. Let’s stay open to conversation and remember that we don’t all speak with one voice. It’s essential to recognize, as Rinku Sen does in this essay, that this movement isn’t the same for everyone, so listening to folks from all walks of life is necessary to create a positive change for all of us.
So with these insights in mind, it’s time to reflect on my place in this movement. What can I do to move in the direction of change? What can you do?