After my last opinion column on the current moment regarding Black Lives Matter, I received a small number of contacts from a variety of audiences. One thank you, with conditions (I rarely receive a real “attaboy” on anything I’ve written,) and a smattering of the community feeling aggrieved that they didn’t get the stroke they feel they deserved for marching.
I was pleasantly surprised to wake up today and see friend and colleague Douglas Call, calling me out (no pun intended) and responding to my column, which said “what’s the ask?” for fixing our current problems. In his column, Doug laid out his background, somewhat similar to mine, and asked that others receive the same opportunities for education, housing, and such. Doug – I agree.
But that’s not the ask, folks. We all want a better world. That’s the easy part. Asks are pieces of legislation that get written that attempt to delineate the path to get there. And legislation is time-consuming and difficult to generate. I know, because I’ve helped. I want to see the Hillbilly Equivalence in Opportunity Act.
Before this academic community piles on and tells me that they’re not experts, and therefore not responsible for such things – that silent meditation is enough – I’m going to tell you who instructed me in activism. He’s passed now, but Leroy Lee, a timber stand examiner and architect of the Phantom Forest scandal, back in 1992, not formally educated, but smart as hell, took me under his wing. We made maps together of all sorts of timber stands, tramped around in the woods together gathering data. Leroy worked with whoever wanted to work – Dr. John Osborn from Spokane being a notable partner. Part of this was directed toward the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and that turned into a bill in Congress, that was written by citizens.
That was followed by seemingly endless press releases, meetings with congressional representatives, Leroy’s visits to Washington, D.C., and coverage by the national press. All those things characterized the ask. They all took work. And organizing. No one did any of these things alone. When we started, we did not know what we were doing. But we learned, and kept modifying our efforts. It was far more than “we want beautiful wilderness.” The various asks were specific.
This is not some unique template for change. Looking outside our paired states, when fixing the gig labor situation in California, there was indeed a specific ask. The bill was called Assembly Bill 5, and extended protections that were possessed by regular workers to gig workers. That was progress, and a good hunk of it was a codified judgment rendered by the California Supreme Court. Legal judgment became law. Specifics.
There’s no reason to think that you have to “go big or go home” with respect to laws, initiatives, or funding/defunding resolutions. Moscow has elected some progressive, forward-looking City Council members. I’ve been watching the paper for some announcement on a change initiative, but haven’t heard much except through back channels. Part of successful implementation is getting the word out to the community — through news releases, flyers, you name it. If I don’t know about it — an op-ed writer and ally at the Daily News — it means that your activism has a hole to fill. Getting mad at me (which is popular) because I don’t know, but you’re doing something, doesn’t get you much. You have to identify your allies in the press, and feed them information. When I was working with now-international journalist, Andrea Vogt, she had a great quote. “Press folks are like alligators. They have to be fed.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, in “The Lord of the Rings,” has Frodo volunteer to take the one ring of power to Mordor. “I will take the ring,” he said, “though I do not know the way.” We need a little more of this kind of thinking in our social change movements. Everyone knows the ring has to be thrown in the fire. Let’s start taking some concrete steps to do just that.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.