|President Obama & Co. on 21st Century Selma March|
More and more people are becoming informed, taking stands and speaking out on topics of which they may have been aware. Previously, most remained on the sidelines. These days they’re coming off the bench and turning out to be real impact players. The beauty of it all is that it’s happening across multiple dimensions.
The latest centers on a piece of legislation, a religious freedom “restoration” bill Indiana governor Mike Pence recently signed into law.
Supporters hail the law as providing a much-needed check against government forcing those who have strong faiths to violate their principles. Opponents fear it will be used as a license to discriminate, because it might encourage business owners to cite their religious beliefs if they wish to refuse service to someone.
As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Yet in the wake of this law, the entire country has turned its collective eye on Indiana. And with good reason.
The initial language of the law was framed in a way that opponents insist opens the door to the immoral (if not illegal) discrimination against the LGBTQ community and possibly other historically targeted groups.
|Gay Pride Flag|
Though Governor Pence says the new Indiana law is rooted in a 1993 federal mandate, it marked a “significant expansion” over what was passed in ’93. That’s because the law not only applies to government entities, but also includes private business transactions.
The difference was different enough to garner nationwide attention. Response was swift. On the political front, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned all non-essential, state-funded travel to Indiana. Vermont and Connecticut took similar measures.
Entities that do business in Indiana, like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), voiced concern over the effect of the law. So did numerous corporations. Among them, American Airlines, Apple, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Orbitz, Starwood Hotels, Symantec, Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo.
The fact that big business is paying attention is important. That’s because this issue has turned what many pundits, critics and supporters tended to consider a social issue transformed into one of business.
It’s a real game changer. Many businesses, large and small, worry that a climate of intolerance makes it harder to recruit talent, retain customers and attract tourists.
The topic is so charged that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson reversed course and stated he won't sign his state’s similar religious freedom restoration act into law. At least in its current form.
This pattern of dissatisfaction with social injustice has its conceptual roots in the 2010 Arab Spring. You know, the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests in the Arab world that began with the Tunisian Revolution, and swept through countries in and around the Arab League. Among many, the Arab Spring was described as a wave of popular uprisings against oppressive policies and rule.
That same year in the United States, the Internet-based It Gets Better nonprofit was founded. This movement was of a different nature, though as with the Arab Spring, injustice was at its center. It Gets Better was in response to suicides by teenagers who were bullied because they were gay or suspected of being gay.
|Yes. They really do.|
In 2013, Black Lives Matter came into being. It began with the creation of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter after George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It gained momentum in the months following the police-related shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, John Crawford III near Dayton, Ohio, and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City.
Closer to home, in neighboring Marshall, another justice movement is underway. Youth at Marshall High School are rallying around its LGBTQ students (much to the chagrin of some parents) to let them know their school is a safe and accepting place. About 30 students stood in solidarity with the transgender community during a recent rally.
None of these movements are “agenda-driven” as some incite. Rather, they are efforts that raise awareness of social injustice that affects various groups of people (poor, POC, LGBT) who traditionally have little or no voice, and whose issues have historically been downplayed or outright ignored by mainstream America.
That’s why social justice work must maintain an intersectional footing. Because at the end of the day, the goal of each group is the same: achieve equity for all people – regardless of how different they may seem.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at email@example.com.