By Zerline Hughes
In my work over the last 10 years in criminal and juvenile justice, getting a win has been piecemeal and quite the challenge. We often have to dig for wins in a published opinion editorial, in an email from a policymaker offering kudos on a report we released, or a tweet from a celebrity championing our cause and reusing a hashtag we created.
And on those few occasions, like with the Second Chance Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, Ban the Box, and Raise the Age policy recommendations, reform was reached through actual legislation change. It may not have been the exact legislation we wanted. For example, instead of moving from a 100:1 crack/cocaine sentencing ratio to a 1:1 ratio, we moved to 20:1. Another case: raising the age for “criminal responsibility” to age 21 in some states only ended up being raised to age 17 or 18. Nonetheless, there was definite movement in our favor on the scales of justice.
So, on a smaller, more local and personal scale, I’m proud to say that my social media and communications efforts have positively impacted justice in my own neighborhood community. And it only took a small team of less than 10 people to make it happen (just a tad bit different than the social justice work I’m used to where a team of about 50 national nonprofits supported by grants totaling millions from another 20 foundations strategize and execute long-term plans to enact major change).
Earlier this month, I noticed that our local park playground equipment was gone. No notice. No sign. No plan to replace Kenilworth-Parkside Park with … you know, park-like stuff so kids would actually wanna’ hang out there and not in the streets getting into trouble. And the part that made me so upset was that it was just weeks before summer break where kids have out of school time to make use of, and when the weather is perfect for park visits.
So I immediately took to writing a blog post and just a handful of tweets. I tagged folks who could help including the DC Department of Parks and Rec and our councilmember. I also posted the blog on my neighborhood listerv. That was followed up by some hardcore email tag teaming from a few residents, our civic association president and our Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC). In turn, our ANC had an in-person meeting with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. I’m glad to report that not only have some fixes been identified, but a summer-long schedule of outdoor activities for our neighborhood kids has been introduced and already implemented.
And all I had to do was register my concern.
That’s what I’m talking about. I wish it were that simple on the state and federal level, though: just a sample group of a population explaining the problem, its impact, alternatives, and those in charge listening and working fast to make immediate improvements.
Do you know where we would be if that’s all it took? With each Not These Two blog post making mention of the tribulation, concern and complaints I have about raising kids in our faltering society, all of my challenges would disappear. Like that. No more suspension to prison pipeline concerns, no more qualms about leaving my kid at the public library to search for books, no more needing to change the narrative so that my kids can be seen differently.
By no means am I saying social media is the answer. I mean, a hashtag can only go so far. Social media does create movements, public education, but then what? Follow through is required via letters, calls, conversations, partnerships, action plans and hey, maybe even a little boycotting must follow, too.
Just this month, Truthout.org published “Opposing Mass Incarceration Is ‘Trendy,’ but Can We Stop the Train of Piecemeal Reform?” Though it focused on the need to truly reform our criminal justice system and how we need to work together, some of the suggested solutions apply to reform in so many situations.
“There are three keys to making processes a success. The first is the agreement by all parties to participate. This is a difficult challenge, but the political pressure of mass social movements can make the rich and powerful do things they never dreamed of doing … The second component is truth telling. The oppressed must have the opportunity to tell their stories publicly and compel the oppressors to listen. Truth telling lifts up those whose stories have been ignored or denied. Plus, it is an important step in contributing to how we record and remember history.
“The third and most difficult part of the process is redistribution, getting the rich and powerful to sacrifice because they have to. The crucial part about redistribution is not that it doles out checks to individuals, but that it redistributes the money and resources of the state and the wealthy in a way that moves the impacted individuals and communities down a path of collective opportunity.”
So let’s keep our advocacy going, making sure to use all vehicles available. Let’s work together for change starting in our own backyard. Literally.
(Um, just so you know, our temporary playground equipment is not yet at Kenilworth-Parkside Park yet, so I be posting allll about the follow up process very soon. This better not take the entire summer.Stay tuned.)
Need a quick how-to on social media advocacy? Lemme know!