I don’t like drawing attention to myself. Nor do I like doing things that force me to step outside my comfort zone. Throughout my time at Duke, and especially during this past summer in New York, I’ve learned that to grow and to change requires making sometimes uncomfortable decisions when confronted with challenging situations. The Moxie project has given me the chance to think a lot about social change movements both from the past and in the present. Prior to this year, I read and learned about protests and other radical forms of activism that led to triumphs in areas such as civil rights and women’s rights movements. Looking backward makes these strategies seem so obvious and simple, perhaps because I knew the outcome, but they were stories that I felt disconnected from. Making social change seemed to require the presence of a certain kind of person who has a strong, radical personality. Or so I thought.
But, maybe not. It wasn’t until a class period a couple weeks ago that I began to see how being an activist in promoting social change wasn’t such a far reach for me. I read articles on Nikki Craft, a woman who took radical action, including vandalizing photographs that depicted women negatively and destroying copies of Hustler magazines that also depicted women in an oppressive nature. While Craft destroyed private property, she brought attention to an issue she felt needed addressing: how society devalues women. If the intention of the action is to benefit a larger community—in this case women—is it okay to undertake that action, despite illegality? After all it is our society who creates the laws that we abide by, so if a law is discriminating against a portion of the population the law is supposed to protect, why shouldn’t we change it?
Thinking about Craft’s decision in this way rationalized how extralegal tactics may be okay in some circumstances. Raising awareness is an important factor in changing a cultural norm and individuals certainly listen when the legal system is involved. But what role could I play in addressing issues that are important to me? What strategies could I use? I’m certainly not as bold as Nikki Craft. I prefer to do what’s most comfortable. But for an issue that I’m passionate about, how far would I be willing to go to meet my social change goals?
I’ve been thinking more about this question as my class has been thinking about our final project. The project’s aim is to identify an issue on campus in need of address and develop an intervention to raise awareness and/or change the way our campus culture perceives the issue. Not that my class is considering extralegal tactics to address issues, but there is still a certain amount of social risk that remains when challenging the status quo that most people are willing to accept. Am I willing to take actions that may isolate myself from my friends or even anger my peers? Asking people to reform views they have come to accept as the norm is difficult and many may not be willing to do so. Then again, it’s possible that other students are also angered by the same issues that I am. In either case, I feel many social change movements, or at least social change conversations, begin this way: with an idea, passion, and courage to undertake action that may carry heavy legal or social risks. There comes a point when making individual sacrifices are necessary to produce long-term, wide-scale benefits for the community. In these cases, assuming those risks just may be worth it.