While out driving late one night, I noticed a freshly killed squirrel just a bit off to the side of the road to my right. The sight made me grimace and I looked away just in time to see a vulture swoop in to claim the kill. It swerved in midair, however. Perhaps it noticed my car’s headlights. Too close for comfort, maybe.
I was glad. Dignity for the squirrel, I thought. I knew the vulture would be back as soon as the road was clear. But at least I wouldn’t be there to witness the further mutilation.
It’s just a squirrel, I know. But it made me think about social justice.
The issue has been playing around in my head, what with the Advocacy class I’m taking and the music I listen to and the viral KONY 2012 campaign. And reading the reactions to the KONY2012 video and digesting all the thoughts that swirl around the topic.
Let me just state here and now: I am for Invisible Children. I think they do good work, and I have a shirt a friend gave me that I wear for awareness. But for some reason, I did not watch the video. I felt the same way I did when I glimpsed pictures on Facebook of the dead from the tragedy of Typhoon Sendong in Mindanao.
I couldn’t help but wonder where the dignity was for the victims, both the dead and the suffering. In a comparable but imperfect way, I thought again of the squirrel.
Social justice, or activism for that matter. It’s the thing to do these days. One is offered an array of causes to choose from—from saving the dolphins to calling for corporate responsibility to protecting indigenous cultures to protesting the sex and violence on television and the movies. Pick and choose, and then give voice to your choice.
But in the rush to speak up, do we do more harm than good? I am finding that it is most prudent to stop and answer a question: do I unintentionally exploit those I want to help so I can move others to act?
That night I saw the squirrel, I had the Newsies soundtrack playing in the background. I was also singing my heart out—one of the benefits of driving alone is being able to sing at the top of my voice, with no one there to complain.
So, the Newsies, yes, that story of peons challenging the king and winning. It makes for great entertainment, for deep pondering, and for careful life choices.
Entertainment. Before he was Batman, Christian Bale was THE Cowboy. And fans of Doogie Howser, you get to see Vinnie at his best. And Alan Menken’s musical genius? Come on!
Pondering. The movie was set at the turn of the century New York. It revolved around a group of newsboys, a ragtag bunch of orphans and runaways who sell newspapers for Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. When the price of the newspaper went up, the newsboys were forced to take the hit. Already desperate, the disenfranchised lot—led by the Cowboy and the Brain, organized a strike to fight back. And the story takes flight. So do my thoughts.
Child labor. Orphans. Greed. Doing something. Speaking up. Justice. Injustice. Dreams. Boy homes and orphanages. Hunger. Humanity. Exploitation.
Life Choices. I’m convinced this movie was part of the reason I write the way I do. What better way, indeed what nobler cause, than to give voice to those who have none?
Those of us who call ourselves Christians have the perfect example to follow—Jesus, whose actions always radiated love, causing the person before him to believe there was hope. Whether faced with an adulterous woman or a man with an infectious disease or a thief or a cripple or an outcast, He offered the same compassion, the same new beginning.
I think about Him when I think about social justice. And I know that I feel the need to speak up, not because it’s what all the cool people are doing, but because a long time ago, long before people invented sign-up sheets and sit-downs and occupying streets, a Man found it important to step outside the discriminating line and touch the hungry soul waiting in shame.
If you, like me, have ever been that soul, then you would understand.
“In the shadow of the cross where my first love died,
In the valley where we learn how to climb so high,
Will You open my heart and reach inside
Till the blood on Your hands is Yours not mine?”
– We Will Follow, by Jars of Clay