Walking in Circles; Raising Awareness about Raising Awareness.
It was on a Sunday night when a he grabbed the microphone and found his place on the small ramshackle stage; illuminated against the night by a primitive light fixture constructed from odds and ends. “Hey!” he yelled. “We have an exciting week coming up this week! On Tuesday, we’re going to have a direct action event against Comcast. See that big shiny building over there…” he proceeded to point with enthusiasm to a tall building in the near distance while heads in the crowd turned in response. “Do you know who paid for the construction of that building?” he asked. The night air was a cool forty-nine degrees as silence was heard from the crowd. Silence which the speaker seemed to relish for it provided a perfect transition for what he had to say next. With a pointed finger and an extended arm he targeted an individual in the crowd. “You did!!!” he shouted then smiled. The targeted individual looked surprised as he captured the crowds’ eyes and attention. The speaker then targeted another individual on the other side of the crowd. “…and YOU PAID for the construction of THAT BUILDING!!!” he continued and then he pointed to himself, “…and I PAID for the construction of that building. WE ALL DID. TAX PAYERS PAID for the construction of that building… That building represents millions of OUR dollars spent. And do you know how much money Comcast pays in taxes each year here in Philadelphia?” he asked. “Zero!” he answered, “Comcast pays nothing in taxes!” The speaker spoke with conviction and intensity like a Sunday preacher. “Do you know how much money Comcast’s CEO, Brain Roberts, is paid every hour that he works?” There was more silence then the speaker said the following words with a slow motion drawl in a soft cushioning tone, “Fifteeeeen thooousaaand dooolllaarssss.” He continued, “Their CEO is paid FIFTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS for every hour that he works. Fifteen thousand dollars!” He repeated the dollar amount several times, “Fifteen thousand dollars.” The speaker went on to make a few more points and then proceed to give a final overview of the coming week’s itinerary before he handed off the microphone, stepped out of the light, and walked off the stage.
A young woman took the stage next and with a soft tone she began to mumble into the microphone something about the need for the formation of a women’s caucus to discuss and address the emergence of covert and overt manifestations of troublesome sexism within the communal space. …sexism rooted in patriarchal ideology’s desire to naturalize and thereby disguise and deny legitimate concerns over inequalities and other problematic issues that exist between men and women.
I had to step back and exit the scene. It was Sunday night and I faced an impending fifty hour work week of sit down, shut up, nonsense drudgery. I couldn’t listen or participate anymore. I had to walk away.
Are You Aware Yet? Now Are You Aware???
The purpose of the above illustration is to highlight the central importance that has been placed, within activist communities, on education and on the raising of the public’s awareness of issues as an impetus to change. In short, I think the emphasis placed on raising awareness results in misspent energy. Also, it seems that anymore, the goal of raising awareness often inadvertently becomes an end in and of itself.
Here’s the thing… most people already have a basic understanding of the problems that plague our society, especially in this information age; they just don’t care. This needs to be accepted so that those who want to be active in change processes can understand and get over the fact that a large number of people simply don’t give a damn about the world; regardless of how much compelling information is made available to convince them to think otherwise. People need to stop throwing energy into the black hole that is indifference. Once this happens we can stop having the same conversations. When I stood at the meeting illustrated above, with the guy talking about corporate tax loop holes and amoral CEO compensation and with the young woman talking about forming a caucus to discuss and examine the existence of patriarchy and its henchman, sexism, as if they were new concepts which should evoke surprise, interest, or outrage; I couldn’t help but think, here we go again…