Each time I teach Collective Behavior and Social Movements I show the documentary, “Freedom Riders: Could you Get on the Bus?” This documentary brilliantly tells the story of the Freedom Ride movement and gives extraordinary insight into what compels people to join social movements. But, not only what compels people to join movements but what drives them to put themselves at risk, even in the face of death, for a cause. I’ve watched this documentary no less than 20 times now over the course of my career and every time it forces me to consider my own commitment and passion when it comes to social justice issues. But, today it caused me to think, “What is my bus?” How am I participating in creating a more just society. Have I lost my motivation? What am I really doing?
Most often when we think of social movements we think of participation being in the form of protests, petitions, organizations that promote change, etc. I haven’t participated in a social protest or march for some time. I don’t often write op ed pieces speaking out on those social issues I am passionate about. I see fellow colleagues that do those activities quite well. Their words inspire. Their participation in protest inspires me.
I look at our global society today and so many situations break my heart. I still see us wrestle with racial inequality. I see our girls inundated with messages that are detrimental to their definition of self. I hurt for the poverty I see not only in my own backyard, but also the world. I become infuriated when in 2016 a city such as Flint, Michigan is without clean drinking water–a basic human right. I cannot even comprehend or wrap my mind around the suffering of those children, women and men making the journey from Syria.
Then, I listen to all the noise I hear and see on a daily basis. I hear the ideologues. I hear the media screaming. I see the memes. So much of this closes off people to really talking through and listening to the reality of people who are unlike us or have experienced life in a much different way. It causes us to define hard social issues as simple, “either you are with us or against us” causes. It causes us to think that a simple picture or meme can really explain complexity of social life. Just because people have a different experience than us does not mean our experience is wrong or their experience is wrong. But, it does mean that we must talk about why they differ. It means we have to do more to understand each other.
In all of this I’ve decided that my bus is the classroom. My bus is allowing students a quiet space to have these debates. To learn from each other. To have the opportunity to grow. By creating that space it may mean I take the hot seat for allowing controversial conversations to happen. I may make some people mad. I may be told we shouldn’t be talking about those kinds of things. But, I will stand my ground. I will take the criticism. I will allow people to think what ever they want of me.
If I come to the end of my career and I’ve continued to allow a space for students to talk then I think I’ve contributed in some small way to fight inequalities.
I cannot recommend this documentary enough. It is the story of struggle, determination and love for fellow man. It is hard to watch. It is hard to digest. It is hard to wrap our minds around. But, it is indeed OUR history. It is OUR story. To ignore that does a great disservice to the young people who put themselves in harms way to make a change. Embrace it. Own it. Learn from it.