Written by Daniel Hudson //
In order to master a skill, we must first practice the rudimentary motions that comprise that skill. In the same way we must first practice at justice before we can enact (or practice) justice. I acknowledge that collective action in the form of rallies, protests, or marches can look very different from country to country. But in the US, collective action tends to be much more a practice at justice rather than a way of practicing justice. Rallies in the U.S. tend to fall into one of two main categories: rallies attempting to achieve justice politically through our democratic system, and rallies directed at the general public, intending to bring about justice socially.
The first rally that I participated in was of the former type, and I (and many others) approached it very optimistically, expecting some concrete results. Tens of thousands gathered in the US in December of 2016 to protest the election to president of Donald Trump, a man who had demonstrated a concerning disregard for justice. This rally and most of its fellow political rallies (such as the recent March For Our Lives advocating stricter gun control to protect schoolchildren) have not, as yet, resulted in the change for justice that the communities involved were demanding. While the stated goals often aren’t achieved, the relationships and partnerships engendered begin to build the groundwork for a community more actively pursuing justice.
The second type of rally seems to be the more effective in terms of achieving justice, in that its goals are more aligned with a mentality of practice. Let me give two examples: the Women’s March in the spring of 2017 was organized to highlight the injustices that women face, including the gender wage gap and widespread harassment. The Climate March, also in the spring of 2017, was organized to emphasize the severity of global climate change, which will soon be affecting populations everywhere. Neither of these actions created more justice in the world, but the awareness they brought (through intense national and global media coverage) were a necessary beginning. It’s also important to note that all of these rallies would not have been possible on a national scale without the use of social media.
Although social media has its pitfalls, it has provided a platform for many to communicate and gather in a cohesive manner. From the Women’s March to the March for Our Lives, relationships were facilitated, partnerships enabled, and information communicated at a previously impossible speed and reach. Social media has the power to unite disparate communities into one community seeking justice.
At most of the marches I’ve been to, I was the only one attending from my most immediate socio-geographic community. Yet I was adopted into the larger community of those practicing at justice. I remember most vividly attending a rally in Columbia, SC in March 2018. I saw several small communities desiring justice: the mothers wearing matching shirts, the small group of jewish students and elders, as well as families and individuals across ethnic, economic, and social lines. The unexpected relationships formed in these spaces perform a number of functions, one of the most important of which is encouragement. In the pursuit of justice it is easy to get discouraged in the face of an unjust world, and discovering other justice-practicers in the most unlikely people encourages me to more actively practice justice elsewhere in my life, a sentiment that I have heard echoed by many who seek justice.
I have here touched on just a few of my experiences and impressions of collective action. It is by no means a perfect tool for the pursuit of a more just world, and I’ve had my share of frustration at an apparent lack of results. Many believe that marches and rallies are useful as ways to practice justice. They are not. Collective action is a useful training ground for justice-practicers, encouraging them and equipping them. They will go out into their local communities with renewed vigor, support networks, and a cohesive message. It is those justice-practicers who will practice justice, not their protests on the streets or their rallies in the houses of government.
Daniel Hudson is a recent college graduate spending a year serving in South Carolina building and maintaining hiking trails. Wherever he goes across the country he can find a community to adopt, somewhere to do theater, and somewhere to dance.