Tag Archives: activism

Thanks, Twitter (2013 ed.)—Part 3

This is the third and last Twitter-compilation post for 2013 (Part 1: Seeing the Real | Part 2: Evolving Deliberately).
Changing the World includes tweets on social development, justice, activism, politics, and progress.

3. Changing the World

Long Reads and Research

Orson Scott Card and Art Boycotts

Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card is in the news again hoping the Ender’s Game movie won’t be boycotted. But his call for “tolerance” doesn’t read like a desire for mutual civility. It’s not even a discussion of his views or their merit. He’s all about the money, snarking about others’ right not to pay into his product, and driving the canard that people working against demographic discrimination are oppressive haters who shouldn’t be trusted when the power tables ever turn. The logic: “I can lobby against your marriage and civic standing & that’s not intolerant. But you organizing against my profits—that’s intolerant.”

No. No, no, no.

Card is a private citizen and entitled to his personal and religious beliefs. He’s not providing a public service so he’s under no mandate to offer his work to everyone. He may be hired by whoever wishes to hire him; and no one is obliged to patronize him. This is the essence of market trading: producers aren’t entitled to consumers. Producers earn consumers via product resonance, price, quality, and great experiences, and so smart producers will cultivate their brand to increase resonance and improve their product, its image, and client relationships. This being so, I wonder what the strategy sessions at Summit Entertainment  look like this week!

The Artist’s Outsized Influence

There’s another issue beyond market strategy. As well as being a private producer, Card is also an artist. One doesn’t have to agree with an artist’s politics or endorse their psychology to engage works derived from the artist’s art. Students of literature and music often learn to trace artists’ psychology, politics, and life experiences in their work, and some of us use that assessment to determine what we do and don’t want to consume.

Centuries ago, Shelley wrote that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. I’ve always agreed with this, not just in relation to poets but also re. other artists and cultural creators. Card has an outsized public influence among a range of readers because of his art and the worlds he creates in that art. He’s also developed influence among religious-political lobbyists because of his willingness to speak beyond his art. How does he not grasp that because of his outsized influence he’ll receive outsized praise and scrutiny when members of the public—his audience—affirm or challenge his contributions?

Boycotting as Freedom: The Right to Opt Out

Unlike those harmed by his political lobbying and the climate he contributes to through his writing and speech, Card is not at risk for harm. There’ll be no referendum on his opinions as there’ve been referendums on other citizens’ rights, relationships, and families. Though he, NOM, and his church have promoted diminished civil rights for LGBT people, they are at no risk of diminished rights themselves.

The freedom of expression that Card enjoys as a citizen and an artist has never included freedom from criticism, and anyone may boycott his work if they wish as an expression of their rights. Economic boycotts are native aspects of American politics. They’re not “monstrous” or inherently “intolerant”; they’re an instance of liberty. They are sometimes based on un-reflective groupthink; they often channel consumer ire at local franchises rather than at corporate owners and policy-makers, and so they can be ineffective change-agents—but these are deployment issues, not essential characteristics.

A boycott is a symbol of the right to opt out, the liberty not to buy, the freedom to consume consciously and at will. It’s a tool, not an end, and sometimes it’s warranted.

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender's Game | (c) Summit Entertainment  (Lionsgate)

Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield in Ender’s Game | (c) Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate)

I’d like to see Summit Entertainment’s Ender’s Game eventually though I’ve never read Card’s series: I’m a fan of Asa Butterfield and expect him to shine in this role. I also have some empathy for the cast and crew involved in this production: it looks solid and they’re not responsible for the source writer’s work or personality. Orson Scott Card is responsible for that. I don’t yet have any info on how much he will earn from the Summit film; early rumors are that the studio isn’t including him in pre-screening publicity—yet clearly the marginalization approach isn’t helping them and they may need to be more direct about their relationship.

There are lots of other films to see this year; I may save my pennies and watch the film a few months late with a free Redbox code. In the meantime, all the best to people convicted otherwise: buy or boycott as you will.

Women Fired Up

A book recommendation via the Son of Baldwin community: Dr. Barbara Ransby‘s biography of Ella Baker, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision.

Ella Josephine Baker (1903-1986) was an under-recognized organizer and operative in the 20th Century U.S Black civil rights movement. In Virginia, North Carolina, New York, and across the Southern states over nearly 30 years, Baker supported and helped to grow some of the most visible labor, voting, and black equality groups including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Crusade for Citizenship, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Ultimately her distrust of hierarchical leadership and support for participatory democracy led her to work less with such well-promoted groups and more with egalitarian and grassroots collectives. She remained socially engaged until her death at 83 years old. 

Human Symphony Foundation logo

This weekend, three contemporary female civil rights activists were honored at the annual Living Legends for Service to Humanity program in Ashton, MD. The 2013 honorees were Ella Baker’s peer, U.S. civil rights activist Juanita AbernathyLouisiana native Sister Helen Prejean, and India’s Dr. Sunitha Krishnan. Sr. Prejean has devoted her life to campaigning against the death penalty and the social order that supports it. Her acceptance speech described the “fire” that can motivate and sustain life-long commitment to people regardless of their social standing and to creating a more just world with them. Dr. Krishnan, founder of anti-trafficking and pro-education organization Prajwaladedicated her award to “a legendary generation” who would act for the equality and worth of all people, regardless of gender, caste, or background.

Next year’s award program will highlight educators.

Faith and Life in Separate Unequal Compartments

Re: School Administrator Fired for Views on Gay Marriage

Case facts: A man in Ohio taught at a Catholic school. He wrote internet posts on his own time discussing marriage equality with friends and describing it as “NOT something of which to be afraid.” The school’s principal and diocese learned about his posts; he was asked to rescind them; he did not; he was fired.

I understand that the recent Hosanna-Tabor judgment grants church schools much more authority over some kinds of employees: expect significant restrictions if the church calls you a “minister.” The balance between the rights of religious organizations and individuals’ rights—this balance is in flux, at least as far as the courts are concerned.

Whether employees may criticize their employers on social media or whether a “like” qualifies as free, protected speech is yet another question that labor courts are still figuring out. (See also the NLRB on Costco’s social media policy,) I’ve noticed that the court of public opinion is far less conflicted. By the comments on the OH case alone, one would think that an employee cedes her right to disagreement when she signs on to work and every US worker is always aligned with his company’s values.

However, these general labor questions are less interesting to me than the underlying assumption: that the insights of faith and the rhythms and responsibilities of the rest of life are essentially incompatible: here’s what you assent to on weekends with your religious community—and there are the silences you keep at work. Or there’s your job for the religious school—and here are the conversations or opinions you can’t legitimately have in public.

But for many of us, our “secular” views are the consequence of our “faith”; we hold them because of our religion/spirituality and not despite or in spite of it. Martin Luther King Jr.’s religious views led to his views on employment and voting and poverty and war. As Abraham Lincoln said of the Civil War era’s feuding Christians: “Both [sides] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” As much as these internecine feuds continue on different grounds today, so too people of faith find their spiritual values informing their social, public lives. Vocal evangelicals in Dallas are no more indebted to their religion than progressive Adventists in Hollywood, and secular humanists are just as likely to appeal to their respective philosophical or spiritual traditions in their public work as are Muslims.

Certainly, some people divide “faith stuff” from “secular stuff,” keeping the two in completely separate psychological compartments, but I don’t. Neither do I think a healthy plural society requires me to. I do see an implicit civic request that if I propose public policies, I propose them as an engaged member of society rather than as an aloof religious overlord. I’d also need to propose these policies for the good of all community members and in language and for reasons that are accessible to all, not just people like me.

If I were Catholic, for example, it wouldn’t be enough for me to propose a new law about women’s health and say “But the Bishopric agrees with me. Do as I command!” Instead, at least for credibility’s sake, I would need to appeal to common social values that people of any faith and no faith could validate and work from with me as my peers.

I watched several English churches offer cautionary tales during England’s same-sex marriage consultation. Adventist church administrators were among those who issued statements against equal civil marriage for LGBT citizens, but the Adventists didn’t think to dialog first with the LGBT citizens within their own ranks. Had they framed their public reservations as part of an ongoing conversation with the rest of society and supportive religious groups instead of as an authoritative pronouncement above them, had they also acknowledged that the government’s proposals wouldn’t influence their sectarian rites or rules and that other Christians and religious groups disagreed with their position, they might have gained credibility and not lost it. We might also have seen a stronger policy outcome because of level-ground cooperation between a concerned, heterogeneous religious sector and a shifting political base. The House of Commons approved the civil marriage proposal earlier this month.

But instead of cooperation, a more common pattern of dissociation and pronouncement often plays out, and discontent in plural societies is growing. In the US, a recent Barna Group survey found a “double standard” among Christians who disproportionately expected civic society to adapt to their concerns and “freedoms” but did not want society to grant similar liberty to others. By contrast, 85% of non-Christians and religious skeptics agreed that no single value system should dominate society. Only 37% of responding evangelicals agreed. I find these and other findings quite sobering.

All of this swirls around us at the macro level. Back at the micro level, one Catholic teacher in Ohio is now out of a job. I wish Mike Moroski all the best in finding new work; let’s hope that with his 12 years of teaching experience he won’t be out in the cold for long.