But is it?
On a good day, our government feels disconnected from the people. But on bad days, when we learn names like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, we feel pushed over the edge. Dialogue isn’t enough. Voting isn’t enough. Petitions aren’t enough. We take to the streets to let our voices be heard.
But what is our best-case scenario? The passage of the Michael Brown Law? Body cams on all cops to keep them accountable would be a great step forward, but…
…is that really what democracy should look like? Is democracy just a reaction to oppression that runs out of steam as soon as it gets appeased with tiny acts of reform? Does democracy never address the root causes?
Don’t get me wrong, I think protesting is absolutely vital. And I think body cams would do good. But just as much as protesting seeks justice from a damaged system, it validates that system.
The whole point of protesting is to demonstrate that we have people power. If we’re loud enough and persistent enough, we might get what we’re asking for. But how much power do we really have if the only way we know how to get what we want is by asking for it from the same people that have been intentionally depriving us of it this whole time?
Protesting is like begging a neglectful parent for a sandwich. They might get so sick of you that they give in, but you’re still living in an abusive household. You gotta do it so you don’t starve, but if that’s your only solution the abuse is never going to end.
We need people power, but not just the power to take away someone else’s peace until they begrudgingly hand us a small token of justice. We need a new kind of power.
We need the power to meet our own needs using our own resources. We need to create safety and justice for ourselves to decrease our reliance on police and courts. But not just that, we need to create new economies that siphon money away from major corporations incapable of true responsibility. We need new schools that embrace radical theories of education instead of obsolete classical schoolrooms. We need to determine our own futures.
That’s never going to happen by asking for it.
And I admit, that’s going to take a while, but that just means we have to work harder. Protesting is necessary, but fundamentally problematic; social innovation can tackle root issues, but neglects systemic oppression. Change requires twin processes: work within the system to create meaningful reforms, but also circumvent the system to practice actual self-determination.
So how do we build power? How do we take charge of our own communities? How do we siphon control away from the powers-that-be so we can take charge of our own futures?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. At least not today.
But I know I’m not the only one yearning for something more; my generation aches for change. We need something powerful, something radical, something truly innovative to snap us out of our singular focus on reform.
Something that will only come along when we realize that oppression will never compromise itself out of existence.