The size of issues tackled in these reads may weight heavily on the readers' shoulders, revealing our sense of individual powerlessness. But I think they also help connect the scattered dots of the big unknowns thrown at us in 2020. Being equipped with this knowledge will help the individual activist mentally prepare for what is to come. For the activist today, the biggest danger is burnout. The key to the victory of the righteous cause will be maintaining stamina, not being shocked, or distracted by more 2020-like events to come in the future.
- Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything,” blew my world open to environmentalism back in 2016. I most appreciated how she connected her female body with the illness of the Planet body, in discussing infertility and sterility of our economic systems.
- In “This is an Uprising” Mark Engler and Paul Engler decipher how nonviolent civil movements are sparked, spontaneously grow, and achieve social transformation. After reading this around the time of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, it’s been easy to predict that this bottled up energy was waiting for one more “trigger event” to outburst into massive nationwide protests that indeed occurred this past summer. More importantly, this book touches upon the necessary next steps and organization required to reach the goals of non-hierarchical movement like Black Lives Matter.
- “Public Opinion”, a dense read but try it before the elections. Walter Lippmann dissects how stereotypes and prejudices that uphold the American identity are formed, points out democracy’s vulnerabilities, and news media’s role in shaping public opinion. Written a hundred years ago, still relevant today.
Notes on 2020 elections:
After this last read, I find it particularly vital to discuss how we’re still using the 18th century’s tools in practicing democracy, while we have at our disposal the 21st century’s information technology. Today we are debating whether it is safe to vote by mail in the United States, which is in stark contrast to our modern life where technology allows us to complete secure transactions every day.
Somehow democracy is only taking advantage of the advanced communication tools for election rhetoric, rather than taking advantage of them at the policymaking level. Perhaps, this is because what Lippmann calls the “doctrine of the omnicompetent citizen” is hardly realistic. Perhaps not. Traditional representative democracy sustains that the general public cannot handle, be educated about, make time, or be interested in processing decisions that may or may not affect their lives directly. This is why spontaneous democracy and self-government are deemed unattainable. The other weak link per Lippmann happens at the level of capturing and distributing the truth. This leg is painfully jammed today. But is it possible to handle this complexity differently?
Let’s take modern communication technology and globally-connected human intelligence for granted. I think it’s time to reassess if the individual capacity to process information, and institutional responsibility to organize information are still bottlenecks for democracy, or if we are just making lazy excuses.