In praise of so­cial-jus­tice war­riors

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opin­ion - JAMAKAYA

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

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