In praise of social-justice warriors
This is my last column for Wisconsin Gazette. I’m grateful to the publisher and editor for allowing me to spout off on current events for the past eight years.
The end of a newspaper is a sad thing. The downward trend of the newspaper industry marks a radical shift in the way news has been conveyed and consumed for 200 years. Instead of crying in my beer, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned during my 40 years of writing for alternative publications.
I first got published as a student journalist in The Times of the Milwaukee Area Technical College. In 1974, I wrote “Pardon of a President,” the paper’s editorial opposing President Gerald Ford’s blanket pardon of Richard Nixon for any crimes he committed during his presidency.
I hope that once President Donald Trump’s lies and obstructions of justice are fully exposed his successor does not pardon him. What I wrote about Nixon then goes for Trump now: No one is above the law and no one, however mighty, should be exempt from responsibility for their crimes.
In 1977, I wrote an essay for The Post at UW-Milwaukee that could be mistaken for a #MeToo manifesto. It involved the case of Inez Garcia who, after serving two years in prison, was acquitted of the murder of the man who raped her. I declared: “We are happy that Inez Garcia, a symbol of our resistance, has been released from prison. … But Inez Garcia is not free. As long as the fear and horror of rape continues to permeate women’s lives, none of us are truly free.”
Back in the day, feminists like me were accused of wallowing in women’s victimization. Today, the pervasiveness of male violence against women across all cultures, classes and races is well established as one of the greatest ongoing crimes against humanity.
Writing for the gay press for 20 years gave me the opportunity to document the emergence of the LGBT community into mainstream life. The journey from police raids, hate crimes and AIDS to Pride festivals and same-sex marriage was a long and hard one.
It’s not exaggerating to say that the many activists I interviewed over the years were heroes. I’ll never forget the nurses and partners of AIDS patients who left long caretaking shifts to spend even longer hours lobbying for funds or raising awareness. Or the brave feminists who rescued rape victims and battered women and sheltered them in their own homes while working to establish social services and legal reforms.
My coverage of labor unions helped me appreciate their contribution to civic life. Unions promote solidarity and collective effort. They train people for leadership positions and the responsibilities involved in representing others. They teach parliamentary procedure and how to marshal facts and negotiate with tough opponents.
All these union-honed skills transfer to active engagement in the broader society, which benefits everyone. The fall of organized labor is a tragedy that is impoverishing workers, weakening democracy and requiring us to refight many exhausting battles.
Today, trolls use “social-justice warrior” as an insult. From everything I’ve witnessed, it should be a badge of honor. Those who fight for justice improve our lives and move our society forward. History doesn’t celebrate cynics; it lauds the change-makers. Which side are you on?
Jamakaya is an award-winning writer and historian in Milwaukee. Read more of her work at www.jamakaya.com.