Setting the stage for Social Justice was the theme of the opening presentation of the Stan Greenspon Center’s Marches to Movements and the Tools for Social Change advocacy program. Monday evening, Dr. Karen Geiger spoke about an essential topic for anyone interested in working for social justice: preparation. In order to be productive partners in creating social change we must be honest and commit to fostering understanding. We need to build and strengthen our self-awareness and our intergroup relationships before moving out into the community. She highlighted how important it is for each one of us to do the following:
- Look at myself first. What position do I hold in society? What access to resources and power do I have? Why am I here working on this issue? How does my identity (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, physical ability, etc.) shape my experience in different circumstances? Am I willing to learn from this experience even when it is uncomfortable
- Check my biases. What have I been taught and believe to be true about groups of people not like me? How honest have I been with myself about my status in society? How willing am I admit my own prejudices?
- Affirm the validity of individual experiences but recognize the larger social patterns. Your experience in life is true: it is your reality. However, some nuances of the larger issue your group is working on may not fit exactly with your experience.
- Build trust with those who work together on issues of social justice. Trust across lines of privilege may have to be defined specifically given the reality of our lives outside of the working group. Taking time to intentionally build trust will help when encountering difficult conversations. While some may feel it slows down “the work” it almost always valuable during those difficult conversations that arise.
- Agree on what Social Justice looks like. Groups must develop a working definition and assumptions of social justice that speak to; the specific social injustice you are addressing, the desired outcome, and the civic engagement required.
Dr. Geiger left us with her definition of Social Justice:
A reconstructed society in accordance with principles of equity, recognition, and inclusion. Includes eliminating the injustice created when differences are sorted and ranked in a hierarchy that unequally confers power, social, and economic advantages, and institutional and cultural validity to social groups based on their location in that hierarchy. It requires confronting the ideological frameworks, historical legacies, and institutional patterns and practices that structure social relations unequally so that some groups are advantaged at the expense of other groups that are marginalized.
As we move through the next six sessions in the program we will revisit and revise this definition to make it our own.