Determining destiny

Activism in America

Activism applies to many forms of politically motivated speech, whether it is boycotting industrial meat practices or signing a petition shared through Facebook.

Activism in America

Activism applies to many forms of politically motivated speech, whether it is boycotting industrial meat practices or signing a petition shared through Facebook.

With the constant presence of canvassers with clipboards and the recent demonstrations of the Occupy Portland movement making their way through PSU’s Park Blocks, the average student has at least a general awareness of activist practices. But with so many causes and organizations bandying about every conceivable issue, the actual act of getting involved can be a daunting one.

Malika Edden, graduate assistant at PSU’s Women’s Resource Center, understands this. “There are always opportunities to be active in the community, even if not necessarily at school,” Edden said. “It’s hard to gauge the level of activism but there is a definite energy on campus.”

The trick is in channeling that energy into making a positive, constructive change in society.

The effects of activism, though, can sometimes prove hard to measure. This leaves many to silently tolerate injustice because they assume protesting is somehow more of a meaningless gesture than anything else.

But fear not: there are instances which seem to demonstrate the power of citizens to delegate the course of national public interest.

Millions of people reacted harshly against SOPA and PIPA, successfully shutting down passage of these two highly restrictive pieces of legislation, at least for the time being. Americans demonstrated their desire for “internet freedom” in a very loud and organized voice, and it resonated through the actions of our nation’s representatives.

This speaks to the very essence of democracy. People realized a need for public intervention and reacted accordingly. Of course, in order to protest something one must first be made aware of it.

Perhaps this explains the lack of public response to the passage of laws such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows for indefinite detention of civilians without trial, and the Enemy Expatriation Act, which gives the government the power to strip citizenship from any American deemed “hostile” toward U.S. government.

Neither one of these bills has received very much media coverage, yet both contain extreme provisions which could function to limit the civil liberties of all U.S. citizens. This is something which should be important to all Americans who value freedom. So how are these things so easily ignored?

Media coverage seems to play a huge role in determining which issues the public puts up for debate and which issues are allowed to fall by the wayside.

Given the high traffic of websites such as Google and Wikipedia, it stands to reason that their campaign against the passage of SOPA and PIPA legislation and the subsequent blackout protests regarding the bills provided a strong impetus for American opposition to the measures.

This seems to indicate that activism in America is, for most, a state of reaction to prepackaged evils. Instead of a person actively identifying the potential for injustice and trying to prevent it, he or she may simply wait to be told by the various media outlets what is bad and how to respond against it.

A recent example of such a highly publicized matter is the Susan G. Komen Foundation versus Planned Parenthood fiasco, and the occurrence of citizen outcry was immense.

Komen for the Cure recently announced it would cease providing any funding to Planned Parenthood’s free breast exam programs, prompting instant responses from major news outlets trying to determine the reason behind the seemingly politically motivated maneuver.

Planned Parenthood supporters rallied in defense of the organization, calling for a reversal of Komen’s decision.

“I remember checking the Susan G. Komen Facebook page and there were 3,000 comments, then 8,000,” said Edden, who is a master’s of social work student and has given a lot of focus to reproductive justice. “People were vocal about the decision and it blew up in [Komen’s] face.”

It only took two days for Komen for the Cure to backtrack on its controversial decision to leave Planned Parenthood out of funding operations, once again demonstrating the powerful effect public outrage can have on shaping institutions, provided they have information.

But sometimes it seems institutions have just as much power to shape the governance of the public.

Barack Obama’s mandate that even Catholic-funded institutions must provide coverage for contraceptive health practices was swiftly scrapped due to pressure from various conservative and religious groups based on the notion that it violated their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Freedom of religion, however, should function to protect citizens from religious practices which undermine the liberty and security of law afforded to each American by the U.S. Constitution. It should not give religious organizations freedom to influence public policy, because that infringes on the right of freedom from religion.

The idea that, “It’s against my religion to allow others to do anything which is against my religion” seems to pervade the thinking of theocratic activists. Supposedly, there is a separation of church and state in this country which would seek to eliminate a religious bias in relation to law. However, because they are very loud and highly publicized, the voices of powerful institutions can drown out the meager cries of the meek masses.

This seems to prove that it is not the legitimacy of your claim or the virtue of your intentions which is important in activism, but rather the degree to which you can be vocal about your viewpoints.

Those who can afford to influence the message of mass media hold the reigns for shaping activist causes by constantly giving us something to either rally for or against. Maybe it would make more sense to determine those things which we can all deem positive, constructive attributes of a functioning society and emulate those ideas; “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” being the primary functions for a person’s existence.

The role of activism could take on new meaning as a lifestyle which involves the active engagement in the betterment of human society with the goal of developing closely linked, harmonious cohabitation with all living elements of our environment.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness seem important enough for a little disruption, after all.