I have been thinking more about how to deal with social injustice, and I dug up this clip from To Kill A Mockingbird. There are layers of great stuff in this clip:
There are several examples here of the actions that make a social movement. When Atticus learns that the Sheriff is not around, he begins to talk to the crowd, but is cut off by the arrival of his children. He begins a sentence “Well, that does change things somewhat…”
Atticus Finch is a man of justice and wholly dedicated to upholding the law. But these men have circumvented the law, they have taken the means to justice into their own hands. Atticus realizes this and is not willing to forsake his convictions about justice, so he is letting these men know that they will have to kill him in order to violate the justice of the man behind bars. When his children arrive, he is obviously shaken, I can only assume because the idea of dying for his cause conflicts with his natural instinct to protect his family. He wants Jim to leave, not just to keep him safe, but because Atticus cannot be effective in protecting the jailed man if he is involved with protecting his family at the same time.
Jim, in turn, practices a healthy dose of civil disobedience. His loyalty is to his father, and he makes it known that he is willing to suffer with Atticus and he will not submit to orders to do anything else. We don’t have a chance to see how this will play out, because Scout, Jeanne Louise Finch, enters the picture with her natural element of childhood naivety,
Scout is important here because she is not part of the conflict or the solution, she is merely naming the people in the crowd. She does not see criminals, she only knows that she wants to see Atticus to know that he is alright and she sees the crowd not as a mob, but as individuals whom she recognizes and has a relationship with. She, inadvertently, makes the situation personal and calls the individuals out into the light by calling Mr. Cunningham’s name and mentioning that she goes to school with his son.
We have examples of dying for our causes, with our martyrs and even our religious icons, and we have examples in our culture and beyond from which to see civil disobedience at its most effective. Scout, on the other hand, offers us an opportunity to witness the power of the name, to see what happens when we refuse to allow anonymity to exist in the public square.
We are all too familiar with the story of the KKK in our so painfully recent history. We can see the destruction that happens when mob mentality rules and crowds are allowed to operate in public with masks on and without the accountability of public scrutiny. When the mask is off, how many would be willing to be so blatantly offensive, to take advantage of the weakest among us and to forsake our inner most drive to care for our fellow man?
I say that we give a voice to the oppressed, and that we call out those among us that refuse to submit to his or her own conscience. There is a greater public conscience, and it is one that exists when all of the cards are on the table and we can see for ourselves, in the light of day, who the other people at the table are. Do you know who the owner of the payday loan place is? Is he a neighbor? Does he go to your church? What about the brothels, in your town or beyond? Who goes there? What are their names? Would these folks be willing to participate in predatory lending or sexual commerce if we could ask them about it in the morning over coffee?
I think not, and I am willing to bet that if we, as a culture, decide that we are not going to allow the wrongs in our communities to go unnamed, that we can make change in the area of social justice. We are not all Martin Luther King, Jr. We cannot all quit our jobs and go to the south pacific to find out who frequents brothels that traffic young girls. Sometimes, it feels as though we cannot do great things, let alone make a small difference. We are trapped in the grind of our lives, and it is all we can do to continue.
Mother Teresa said “We cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” We are not looking to make anyone less of a person. We are all human, and we are all prone to mistakes. But, without the greater social conscience, there is no justice. And that we cannot accept. We must care enough about each other to take a stand against the injustices that we see around us.