In the past six months, political decisions in several countries have stunned pundits and progressists alike, defied all political expectations, and set social justice and civil rights a few years back. In England, after a reductionist and disinformation campaign, old white males from peripheral areas proved decisive in the Brexit referendum. In Spain, corruption on corruption scandal was not enough for the president to not be reelected. Not even a terrifying episode involving the minister of interior and the head of the anticorruption office in Catalonia in a fact-fabricating case against political opponents was sufficient to change the political landscape. In Colombia, after a lengthy and complex peace process, the country voted against the peace agreement. Now, in the U.S., Americans have elected a racist, misogynistic, accused-of-sexual-abuse, discriminatory male as President. The worst is that the most likely to be negatively affected by these outcomes are precisely the people who voted for the unpredicted result (with the exception of Colombia, where people affected by the conflict overwhelmingly voted in favor of concluding the peace agreement with the FARC-EP).
It’s time to come to terms with the reality that the social justice values that I and many people in my surroundings espouse are not shared by the majority of the population – in no continent in the world. “Traditional thinking” that is anathema to gender and racial equality, marriage equality and LGTBI rights, environmental justice, and respect and opportunities for people of all abilities is very much alive and influencing the results we are seeing. The fact of the matter is that we are not one percenters but we are certainly part of an intellectual elite who was too blinded by the idea that progress is linear. It is not, it has never been, and it can go in both directions. This American election is the last in a series of political events that demonstrate it.
The easiest reaction to this situation is to despair. Yes, voter dissatisfaction is evident and completely justified. We are doomed, there is nothing we can do against the will of the majority if we want to maintain democracy. But, is it so? During the civil rights movement, public opinion was also divided. In 1965 only 25 percent of Americans cited civil rights as a problem facing the nation. The Voting Rights Act was passed that year. According to Pew Research Center data, “in February 1965 that, when asked about the Civil Rights Act specifically, 42% overall believed the federal government was moving too fast in guaranteeing “Negro” voting rights and the right of “Negroes” (the term used in the question) to be served in public places such as restaurants, hotels and theaters, while just 25% thought it was not moving fast enough.” In England, during the suffragette movement, many women and men became actively involved in the anti-suffragette movement.
For years, as a result of these struggles that defied the status quo and the majority, we saw almost unremitting progress and as a result, we became too complacent. Now, we are left with Donald Trump, Mariano Rajoy, Brexit (and Boris Johnson), and an unstable peace in Colombia. Yet whether these politicians can set us back decades is up to us, the citizens. We need to stop thinking that things will sort out themselves, that “they” (vs. us) won’t actually vote like that. We need to stop complaining over twitter and facebook while we remain seated on our chairs. Clicktivism is not enough. Social media and online petitions are absolutely necessary; they can serve as catalyzers and have a multiplier effect, but in and of themselves they will not trigger change.
We have to deal with the Brexit, with a widely and openly corrupt Spanish government, with a Colombian peace process in tatters, and with a Trump era. But as citizens, we have the power to act as bulwarks against state abuse. We can influence policy. We can act to ensure that new detrimental policies are not implemented. You don’t believe me? Look at what women and men – feminists – managed to achieve both in Spain and Poland. In Spain, a government with a sizable majority tried to pass legislation on abortion that would have severely curtailed women’s ability to decide over their bodies. In Poland, there was a call for such legislation as well (albeit not promoted by government, it almost passed). Regardless, the Spanish minister of Justice championing the legislation at the time (who infamously said in Parliament “what makes a woman be a woman is becoming a mother”) had to resign as a result of the pressures. Thanks to women’s mobilizations in Poland, the fate of the initiative calling for an almost completely ban of abortion was not any better.
This political landscape, if anything, also demonstrates that social justice issues are global. The Brexit, the turn European politics are taking, the electoral campaign in the U.S., and the Colombian referendum had a decisive international dimension. If we want progressive causes to advance – anywhere – we need to globalize our thinking about each one of these issues. We need to be actively involved not only in the matters affecting our “passport nation” (as I like to call it) but in what is affecting social justice causes around the world. Borders are porous and the butterfly effect is very much a reality (the crisis in the Mediterranean or the 2008 financial crisis speak for themselves, no need to elaborate more on that).
Let 2016 be a call to action. This is not the beginning of the end, but the start of a new beginning. Oh, and by the way, looking at demographics, the future of social justice lies on the youth and the feminists (both women and men).