How to speak and say nothing

“It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”

                    — Mahatma Gandi

After the grand jury verdict in the Ferguson incident, and the ruling in the events leading to the death of Eric Garner, I thought it would be everywhere.  If you were to watch any news outlet, hear talk radio, or read any social media over the last few months, it IS everywhere: clouds upon concerned faces, outrage in angry voices, rage neatly categorized in hash tags and trending topics, our manufactured dissent cleanly packaged and organized for consumption like so many processed snack foods at your gas station convenience store.

But just like most people, I wake up in the morning and I leave my house to do my daily business, and it was in doing so that I noticed the great divide. When I went out into the “real world,” what some internet users commonly call “meat space,” it was the same as any day. At work, in the homes of my friends and family, no one spoke. There was no whisper or wind of the storms I heard were raging everywhere.

When I took the time to stop watching and really try to see, stop hearing and really try to listen, or stop reading and really tried to understand, I truly saw, heard, and understood that the voices shouting were relegated to free speech zones, cut into blurbs and sound bytes, sealed with a click and sent screaming into the vast and silent internet void, to be muffled by the great din of the world’s turbines and engines, slowly turning, eternal.


I’m not talking about everyone. I don’t mean the relatively few people across the country doing the real work, protesting in cities great and small across the nation, the people shutting down highways, having die-ins and sit-ins and making sure their voices are louder than the buzz and hum put there to drown them out. I’m talking about everyone else, all the keyboard warriors and internet heroes crouched behind computers with $7 coffee, some wrapped in a blanket in bed, thumbs blazing to best some anonymous stranger in a heated debate, their field of battle the comments section of a Facebook post, words like broken swords swung at fleeting ghosts.

That’s the great divide I’m talking about, what all the racially charged killing, police violence, and imperfect justice from Trayvon to today has shown me: that, when our freedom, our justice, our very lives, as Americans are threatened, instead of taking to the streets, we are content to use tools we were given to hide and cower behind our digital walls, as infinitely high as they are thick.

And believe me, the irony of writing all this on my computer before I email it to my editor is not at all lost on me.

But at the end of the day, it rattles around in the space of my head incessantly, and I’m starting to realize why we can never seem to fix anything for good in our modern day. All these things are a wound we could begin to stitch if we would only stop trying to hide it with a bandage, changing the wraps only when they begin to bleed through.

And what social media activism gives you is just that — bandages on bullet wounds. The illusion of action, change or progress, a handy platform for whatever your view, for whatever convenient moral high ground upon which you wish to stand. Ultimately, what social media serves is to allow someone to have viewpoint without any skin in the game. If it gets uncomfortable, delete it.

It provides the user some illusion that they are affecting change by talking about something, by “creating a conversation” or “bringing attention” to injustice, injustice that is already the acute reality of those actually experiencing it. But it is not real change. It’s the pressure valve that lets out the steam of our discontent, keeping the mechanisms from the explosion that would bring about true change and progress. It’s the antibiotics misused to treat symptoms, allowing the true sickness to adapt and mutate into forms more efficient to kill you. It’s everyone telling you that you’re more empowered now than you were before because you can share how you REALLY feel.

Beware the audacity of those who would sit without fear on their throne of privilege and tell you that the chains you wear are not chains at all because they are less burdensome than the chains worn by those who came before you.

Dr. King stated that “the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘justice.’” Go on any average Facebook post, Twitter feed, or news outlet’s comment section, and that’s what you would see in response to the riots and protests: tone policing people saying, “Hey guys, this isn’t the way to do it.” People telling you, here: watch this documentary on passive resistance on YouTube, let me Tweet this nicer MLK quote at you, categorize it with this tag, use this trending topic, compartmentalize your rage, package the anger, keep the peace, maintain order, put down your arms, get out of the street, remain in designated protest zones, peaceably assemble GET OUT OF THE STREET violence isn’t the answer put down your arms trust the system justice always prevails GET OUT OF THE STREET RIGHT NOW.

So write your 500 character Facebook rant that no one will ever read and praise whichever demon it was who gave us such magnificent opium to ease our suffering.

As  Thoreau put it, “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.” I’ve been reading what everyone else says for months now, and it doesn’t feel like all the talk has fixed anything. All this time later, we haven’t healed any wounds or even figured out who it is that’s cutting us. It just seems like we’re a little more distracted from how quickly we’re bleeding out.

Technology is an amazing thing. It has made us so aware of one another and given us an infinite voice to yell out to the infinite masses. But ultimately we are only made more acutely aware of our loneliness, and that same technology has drowned our own voice in millions of voices crying out in the digital seas. So many millions saying so many millions of things with a rapidity we’ve never seen in the history of human kind, and faster and faster unto ruin we go.

Ryan Avalos

About Ryan Avalos
Mr. Avalos works at FedEx Ground. He holds Bachelors degrees in English and Classical Studies from Santa Clara University. He is passionate about writing, and believes the most critical issues for discussion are equality, opportunity and jobs creation specific to underserved neighborhoods in South Sacramento. He has three sons, and is versed in Latin.

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