There is only so much injustice that a society can endure before it collapses.
That was the message at a recent faculty panel in which Dr. Joseph Romano and three other professors spoke at about the 2012 election and social justice. Shirley Dixon of the education department, Dr. Sharon Schwarze of the philosophy department and Dr. David Dunbar of the biology department all were allotted time to talk about the importance of social justice in the election. One of the main points covered was the importance of advocating. Each professor approached the topic in their own way, but they all spoke of participation.
“Social justice requires a social contract. We the people engage in a social contract whereby we agree to curve our self-interest and claim only those rights from society which we are willing to grant to others. Through this social contract a common good for all is sought,” Romano said.
Romano read a letter to the audience that he wrote to his local congressional representative. The main focus of the letter was how America and its government have changed during his lifetime. He said that the way to fix this is to get involved with our government and voice our opinions to the people in charge.
“What will it take to restore the social contract and once again bring a sense of equality and dignity to the name citizen? For starters, our representatives in government must restore balance and moderation in our legislative policies,” Romano said. “We cannot be kidnapped by extreme ideological positions that led to this serious inequality of wealth and opportunity. We must release government of the strangle hold of ideologues more interested in personal victories and misguided notions of patriotism that declare when it’s good for them, it’s good for the country.”
Shirley Dixon also spoke of the historical events that have led to the widespread idea of social justice, namely how Brown v. Board of Education “opened the door to widespread change” along with Plessy v. Ferguson. She closed by saying that something has to be done to “make sure our politicians fall in line to understand that the next generation must be educated in order to keep this country up and running and continue it.”
As a philosophy professor herself, Dr. Sharon Schwarze related the topics to philosopher Thomas Hobbes in her speech, naming him “the philosopher of elections.”
Schwarze began, “He says we are motivated by two things. We’re motivated by fear of death and we’re motivated for desire for commodious living. If you look at the election, that’s exactly what elections are about.” She went on to explain how people view social justice and how she personally believes that “elections are not about social justice”.
“One concept of business is that ‘It’s mine, I earned it.’ All I need is government to help me maintain what I’ve earned. This notion of justice is a little narrow. It doesn’t see our interdependence. It doesn’t go beyond of families and see us connected to other people. What about the powerless in our society: the young, the old, the sick, the poor?” Schwarze said. “Justice simply can’t be contractual and rational, it also has to come from the heart as well.”
Concluding the talks, Dr. David Dunbar took a different approach in assessing social justice. He sought to demonstrate the importance of social justice through the examples of natural resources, particularly water. As something we use daily and need to survive, the importance of water is interminable. However most residents don’t even know the answers when asked the questions: Where does our water come from? Who owns our water? Is our water safe?
These queries directed listeners to question themselves on how involved they were in the important issues that face them. And also to demonstrate how little we think about our water sources in comparison to developing countries that struggle to find clean water to drink on a daily basis.
“We take our water for granted because there were a lot of pioneers and heroes that went before us to ensure that our drinking water would be safe. But I also want to stress that it’s not always going to be like that unless we’re proactive about what goes in our water and also to maintain those protections that others have put in place for us. And to also look at the bigger picture, to look at some of the issues in developing countries.”
Despite the differences in topics, one underlying theme prevailed throughout. Participation is the key to addressing any issue of social justice. However before the forms of advocacy any of the speakers mentioned takes place, the single-most important step has to be taken: voting. While writing letters and signing petitions is effective, voting is one of the easiest and most fundamental ways to let your voice be heard and participate in your government. Too many times people say that they don’t believe their vote has an effect, they don’t like politics or they don’t know enough about the issues to side with a party; the fact has to be understood that without voting, policies won’t change and the important issues will be left in the hands of the percentage of the population that does vote.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
-Write letter or send emails instead of signing a petition. These actions get more attention than the latter.
-Written letters or signatures receive more attention; if possible, take the time to hand-write any submissions.
-If writing a letter or sending an email is not an option, signing a petition is a second best.
-Do your research; pick something that truly matters to you, the more passionate you are the better.