Social change and simple activism

posted by Jeff | Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 11:20 PM | comments: 0

I finally got around to seeing The Help tonight, as Diana Netflix'd it after reading the book. It's a really fantastic movie with amazing performances, start to finish. It also serves as a reminder of how screwed up things used to be, and still are. While certainly entertained by the movie, it made me so angry.

I find the 60's, as a period in American history, completely fascinating. While we often celebrate the finer points of our history, it's important that we not gloss over how awful much of it is, so as not to make the same mistakes over and over again. What I find unfortunate is that the civil rights movement is becoming a footnote to future generations, in the way that they don't remember a time without the Internet. The idea that women couldn't vote, or races were separated in otherwise public places seems absurd today, but that change didn't come about accidentally. Some people suffered or even died to bring that change.

You don't need a degree in history to see where our darkest moments are. Slavery, obliteration of the native people, oppression of women, Jim Crow laws, minority discrimination, racially motivated immigration policy... the melting pot has always tried to limit the lives of one group or another. Social change happens anyway, perhaps even at an accelerated rate. Things change because people have the courage to stand up against people who attempt to oppress others.

The recent statements by an executive running the chain of Chick-fil-A restaurants have set off another round of noise. The guy made an underhanded statement about his distaste for gay marriage, which is all the more troubling because his company has donated money to groups who have actively lobbied to pass laws limiting or prohibiting same-sex marriage. Naturally, there has been quite a call for boycotting the restaurants.

Let's be clear about this. This isn't about religion. No one is suggesting that you can't believe what you believe. If you use religion to justify negative vibes toward anyone, that mostly just makes you a dick, but you're legally entitled to that dicketry. The issue in this case is funding groups that want to get laws passed to oppress and limit the rights of a subset of the population. The absurdity of passing laws to limit the rights of anyone based solely on your beliefs, and over something that doesn't affect you in any way, is morally destructive.

Some of the discussions I've read online suggest that every company does evil things and probably donates to causes or morally questionable things, and that we can't possibly know or boycott them all. I think that's a cowardly straw man argument. This is a case where we have outright facts, well publicized. You wouldn't hang out with a known racist, so why would you give money to a business when you know it will give money to these lobbying groups?

The debate over gay marriage is easily the most bizarre I've seen in my lifetime. I could argue that I know gay couples, and that I think they should be entitled to the same rights as me and my wife, but it's not even that. It's that it doesn't even matter, and I don't want government in the business of categorizing people and denying some people liberties while others are guaranteed them. Not only that, but no gay marriage is going to change my marriage. I won't love my wife any differently.

So in terms of activism, this one is easy. Chick-fil-A has shitty food anyway. Who puts pickles on chicken? Gross.


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