It came to my attention that my previous post implied that middle-income folks who fill their free time with leisure have an equally valid excuse for neglecting activism as lower-income folks who simply don’t have the time because they are so busy surviving.
I did not intend to imply that.
Lower-income folks have no good choice in the matter. Survival is hard work when society seems to obstruct you at every turn. Simply working multiple, low-wage jobs to raise a family would be work enough if one didn’t have to simultaneously contend with all the social and economic booby traps that lie in wait for low-income people. There truly is not time outside of working, parenting, keeping appointments, and dealing with constant surprises to engage in activities of privilege like activism.
The middle-income folks are in a much different situation. They have more flexible work schedules and shorter hours. They can afford babysitters. They have the privilege to choose how to spend their time. So where low-income folks are unable to participate in activism, middle-income folks are unwilling because they value leisure more than justice.
With that said, do you think it’s going to be any easier to convince middle-income folks to give up their leisure time than to convince McDonald’s to keep its wages up with the real cost of living?
I don’t. And I don’t want our strategies for social change to be predicated on the vain notion that we can convince people that they are wrong and we are right. We can point to middle-income leisure and call it complacency and then point to low-income struggle and call it survival, but look: both groups are responding to the rewards and consequences built into their environments. Low-income folks struggle because they need to. Middle-income folks engage in leisure because they can. These are all normal people responding normally to their environments, regardless of how unfair the stratification is.
If you want to judge the middle-income folks, call them selfish, and argue with them to convince them to use their unearned advantages to the benefit of everyone, you’re going spend all your energy on that and never accomplish anything else. I’m not trying to absolve anyone’s complacency, but I’m saying it’s a waste of time to try to convince people to not be complacent.
So if our strategies for social change aren’t rooted in trying to convince other people of things to mobilize a base of support, then where are they rooted?
The conclusion of my previous post was this: it doesn’t matter how valid people’s reasons for being busy are, we’re all busy and that’s the situation we’re in. Treating activism as an auxiliary activity is problematic because doing so marginalizes low-income folks who don’t have time for auxiliary activities and also fails to engage complacent middle-income folks — in other words, the vast majority of the country. By designing strategies for social change that account for how busy everyone is, we can kill two birds with one stone and skip the part where we spend the next decade arguing before we get anything done.
This raises two issues: how do we work with people’s time constraints, and how do we design strategies for social change that can be implemented without a large support base?