The challenges of dialogue may at first seem easier to meet within the realm of Social Justice. As an ideology which does not necessarily stem from, or need to retain roots within, any particular religious tradition or faith-based perspective one might expect that issues of belief, dogma, or institutional hierarchies are avoided with ease. However, this in fact offers a significant challenge to all who work for more equal societies, fairer distribution of wealth, to protect human rights, or work for an end to war and injustice globally. In Social Justice one must attempt to move beyond ones’ own religious and cultural assumptions while not throwing the baby out with the bath water as it were. Indeed rejecting all that is good and helpful from our own traditions and personal faith is quite often to reject the very things which inspired us to campaign for the justice we seek in the first place. At the same time however we cannot expect our personal beliefs to be met or upheld by the wider field of justice campaigns or human rights movements. Nor is it realistic to expect the mechanics of ones own religion and its leadership to chime with any sincere drive to equality and fairness that we might hold.
It is the diversity of participants which gives Social Justice one of its most unique positive attributes, because communities of participation are so diverse they reflect the multifarious concerns of our ever diversifying social units, be it a village or a nation.
The role of dialogue then is obvious for even before one embarks on any kind of campaign or project within society there must be a certain amount of dialogue within the movement itself. One telling example would be the Catholic Worker tradition, where of course being a Catholic is not exactly a requirement, having benefitted from Buddhist, Native American and Protestant (to name but a small sample) participation in the past. A clear understanding of motivations by participants is important but that does not mean all participants must hold the same motivations. Some unifying principles are essential, the desire to bring about a more equitable society, equal rights and protection of dignity for all, for instance, yet individuals may have different understandings of what these lofty ideals mean on a practical level. Obviously then it is a tricky road before one even steps outside the door.
Once outside the door things get really, really complicated and again a constant dialogue is essential. Social Justice campaigners, peace activists and solidarity groups, by their very nature engage with many branches of wider society on a daily basis. Embarking on any kind of Social Justice effort, community education or social solidarity, or providing support and community to vulnerable individuals, more often that not brings one in contact with (sometimes even ‘up against’) local gangsters, social charlatans, the police force, the community’s religious leadership, and many more. Countless individuals within social justice movements, particular those participating in anti-war protest regularly face sanctions, arrest, harrasment, intimidation and imprisonment at the hands of various branches of the official instruments of state. Recently we had the example of Maya Evans who was given a custodial sentence in Hastings for her participation in a protest against the war in Afghanistan.
The mechanics of the political nation cannot be ignored in Social Justice, we cannot remove ourselves from dialogue with the instruments of state, be they law courts, funding bodies, or charities. Such a move would result in introspection and isolation rather than an engagement. To satisfy the need for a more just and equal, peaceful society Social Justice must remain Social and hence dialogue on all levels is absolutely paramount.
© 2012 Claire E. Carroll, Not By My Silence