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Advice for the New Year: Do More than “Hashtag Activism”

Welcome to part two of my “Advice for the New Year.”  Now if you’re saying ouch after reading the title, let me say sorry but not sorry.  This type of activism is simply not working.  And if I’m calling anyone out about it, I’m calling myself out too. I want to do more in 2017, and I suggest you all join me.

It’s no secret that 2016 has brought about its share of lows.  For starters, it seems like we’ve lost more than a few celebrities.  This year we’ve said goodbye to pop icon David Bowie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s Gene Wilder, the GOAT himself Muhammad Ali, and I can’t dare forget about the Purple One.  (Prince’s death definitely hit me the hardest because it was so unexpected and I’ve been a fan of his musicality for quite some time.) 2016 was also a pretty awful year in American politics.  I don’t want to rehash the complete disaster that was this year’s presidential election; however, I will say that I’m still in shock.

Perhaps most troubling about this year has been the number of steps backwards this country has taken in terms of justice and equality.  Look, I’ve never been naïve enough to think that racism magically disappeared, and all the bigots became shining examples of tolerance and inclusion.  But, I did think this nation was a lot closer to fulfilling its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”  How wrong I was.  As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Since the election of President Obama, racial tension has worsened and racists have felt empowered.  This year alone it seems I’ve been exposed to more hatred and discrimination than I ever have before.  Every two weeks it seems as if I’m reading an article about a man or woman of color being gunned down in the streets by men in women in blue.  And each incident is the same.  A man or woman is shot, there is a public outcry for justice for a week or two, the cop is suspended and maybe even brought to trial, but at the end of the day is found not guilty.  I for one am tired of this cycle.

I’m also tired of state legislations passing voter disenfranchisement laws and statutes that greatly impact men and women of color.  Polling stations closing in minority communities is a direct threat on our right to vote. Rezoning and redistricting are also attacks on minorities’ ability to elect officials that adequately represent their interests.  It’s harder to protect our rights we when are denied access to exercise them on the most basic of levels. We can’t stand for this any longer.

I know I’ve highlighted race, but that’s not all that is a hot button issue for me.  As a black gay man, I feel as if my identity is being assaulted on two fronts.  As Trump and Republicans prepare to take over Washington, I’m a little nervous about the onslaught of attacks to come on LGBT rights.  There was a recent article published on the NBC News website that discussed the plans Ted Cruz has for a bill proposal.  If you haven’t heard of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), I suggest you familiarize yourself quickly.  The bill would essentially legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.  If businesses didn’t want to serve LGBT persons claiming it somehow it violates their religious beliefs, then those businesses would be within their legal right according to the bill.  An absolutely disgusting idea that can be a reality if we don’t pay attention and speak up in the near future.

Look people, I bring up these issues not to provide a history lesson per say, but to remind you all that there is too much at stake for “hashtag activism.”  Simply turning a victim’s name into a trending Twitter topic, or Instagram hashtag isn’t working.  Which means we need to do more in 2017.  First and foremost, we need to vote.  There’s no presidential election next year, but there are a number of gubernatorial, mayoral, and other local races that have to be decided.  So we need to do what we can in making sure people that represent our interests get elected.  We also need to get people of our community to run for these elected positions.  That’s the best way to assure our liberties will be protected.

In addition, I’m actually going to suggest we be willing to see the true value of our dollars.  If the past teaches us anything, it teaches us that some people may not understand black and white issues, but everyone understand green.  As in cash money.  Had it not been for the bus boycott of the 50s, desegregation laws may not have happened, or at least as quickly. I understand that businesses of today aren’t necessarily taking aim at civil rights, but they for damn sure have the power to get politicians to listen.  If we become conscious of where we spend our money (spending our coin in businesses that have actively stood on the right side of justice), then that’s a start.  Heck, we should be demanding businesses use their powers of persuasion to influence policymaking.  It’s done all the time in DC anyway.  Let’s start calling on Apple, Samsung, Walmart, Target, Exxon, Google, Uber, and others to take a stand with us.  I’m not sure what can happen, but something has to change.

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