Op-Ed: Time To Do Something Real

Image+from+walkout+against+gun+violence+at+Punahou+School+in+2018.+Photo+Courtesy+of+Ezra+Levinson+%2723

Image from walkout against gun violence at Punahou School in 2018. Photo Courtesy of Ezra Levinson ’23

This is a wake-up call. You’ve seen the news – police and state violence, systemic anti-Blackness and other forms of oppression, the so-called United States’ rapid slide towards fascism. Maybe you’ve even posted about it on your Instagram story, but what have you actually done?

What actions have you taken to make a real-world impact on your community, on anyone other than yourself? How often have you woken up and genuinely created change? Decades from now, as we grow old, children will ask you what you were doing to help in this period of time. Right now, the answer is probably “Not enough.” Posting on social media isn’t enough. Writing this op-ed isn’t enough. Signing petitions isn’t enough, talking about elections isn’t enough, voting in them isn’t enough. We all need to go further.

To be fair, it’s not entirely our fault that we don’t know how to take action when we see bad things in the world around us. There are parents and teachers and presidential candidates who want us to believe that there are only a few “real” ways to create change. Chances are, they’re the ones you’re already thinking of: campaign for political candidates, tell people to vote, vote, donate to charities, sign petitions, maybe even become a “social entrepreneur.” These aren’t the only ways to have an impact, nor are they the best ways – they’re all indirect and usually ineffective. They’re designed to keep us working within systems that are oppressive and often irredeemable, rather than creating our own alternatives. We’ve been handed a table d’hôte menu of preordained choices, and it’s time to reject it.

The alternative to these indirect actions isn’t doing nothing – it’s doing something directly. In fact, actions that cut out the middleman and directly address an issue are literally defined as “direct action.” Where indirect actions ask for something to be done, direct actions attempt to actively make it happen. To find examples, we don’t have to look further than this island: Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae is direct action. Puʻuhonua O Puʻuhuluhulu is direct action. Protestors blocking a road in Hakipuʻu and removing US flags from Kailua Town are taking direct action. Whenever people move off the beaten path and find ways to help their communities, going beyond electoralism and negotiation, they’re engaging in direct action.

You don’t have to blockade a road or build an entire community to create tangible change, of course. Even if your direct actions are small, they can have more impact than signing a million petitions would. Yes, we can ask for things to be done, and sometimes people might listen – but we can also do things ourselves. What tools do you have at your fingertips? What skills and passions do you carry with you? If you can think, write, draw, paint, build, design, act, or affect the world around you in any other way, you can take direct action. (If you say you can’t do any of that, you’re lying.)

Photo Courtesy of Ezra Levinson ’23

This is a simple idea and a radical one at the same time: if you want to tell someone something, talk to them. If you see a problem, start trying to solve it. If you want people to know something, chalk it on the sidewalk or write it on a banner or shout it from the rooftops. Carry money or gift cards to give to people. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Email your teachers if they do something in class that you think is harmful. Put your pronouns in your social media signature if you feel safe doing so. Paint a mural, organize a walkout, start a community fridge. The list goes on.

There are so many possible ways to take action that will do more than Instagram posts or Change.org petitions or even elections ever could. Even with indirect actions, we’ve already demonstrated that we’re a force to be reckoned with, but the systems that got us into this mess won’t provide us with a path out of it.

We’re going to have to get braver and more creative if we want to change things in a good way. We’ve been told to “think outside the box” for our entire lives, so why are we still in the box? Time to open it up, climb out, and never go back inside. It may be comfortable in there and a little bit scary out here, but we’re going to create something beautiful together.