In Iran, they use social media to criticize the autocratic atrocities of the ruling theocracy. In Egypt, they used Facebook and Twitter to organize a peaceful democratic revolution. In America, we have Facebook causes, too. The difference is that we start petitions with no political bearing whatsoever. We start causes like, “learn to use your goddam turn signal” or “that’s what she said.” We get to be politically active without actually having to commit to anything. It’s what Jefferson would want.
I start out with a clipboard and a piece of paper. As I walk to the library, I plan to get petitions for the cause, “Nineteenth Avenue Pedestrians Need to Learn to Use the Crosswalks.”
I know the cause seems a bit cynical, but I have a personal connection to the dangers of jaywalking. A few years back, as I pulled into the QT, I watched a mother dart across the street with her stroller. A Mac truck slammed on its breaks too late. I explained the details to the man at the counter. He called emergency and for a moment I felt like I did the right thing. But I didn’t. I didn’t act. I talked. I wrestled with my fear of blood and tragedy and my desire to move away. Then I walked toward the scene. However, by the time I reached the street, I saw the first responders carrying a small body bag.
* * *
When I walk up to the front area of the library, I meet a man who is promoting the cause of Save Our Schools. He starts talking to me about the death of democracy, the need for public schools and the march in Washington he will be attending. He says that teachers have become too passive, willing to talk loudly but unwilling to act.
I walk away with my clipboard, fueled by the shame I feel in my lack of social action. For all my talk of civic virtue and social justice, it hits me that I’ve become complacent. In an effort to support my own family, I’ve shut the door to social responsibility. I’ve become a spectator, supporting causes on Facebook and yet refusing to take physical action in real-life.
That evening, I meet up with four other guys.
“Would you support the cause Nineteenth Avenue Pedestrians Need to Learn to Use the Crosswalk?”
“I’ll sign up for that one. Just the other day, I watched a man try and wave down the bus. He was flattened and as his girlfriend screamed for help, I drove away and asked my kids not to look.”
“People have no idea. I had a kid walk within inches of my truck when he was jaywalking. He was clueless.”
So we talk. We share the tragic stories that we’ve seen. We admit to our own inaction.
“I’m not sure it’s even illegal in Arizona,” one man explains.
“Maybe it’s time we start something,” I say.
So I do something unusual for me. I write a letter to the City Council. I start a plan for public awareness. I have no idea where it will lead. It still feels like a bunch of words and very little action.
* * *
“Christy, when you get back into town I want to do volunteer work,” I tell her.
“I think that’s a great idea. Maybe we can bring the kids along. I want them to think beyond themselves.”
“I want to go to the food bank. It’s a cause I believe in. I used to do stuff like that with my students, but I don’t know. I guess I got lazy or something.”
“I’d like to serve with you,” she says.
Maybe that’s the next step with in-person Living Facebook Causes. Maybe we get a group together to volunteer at a food bank. Maybe we shift from words into action.