BLAY-TOFEY: Ending self-destructive advocacy

A lot of noise always surrounds controversial events such as the death of Trayvon Martin and what allegedly happened on the fateful night he was shot. Within weeks, media personalities had begun spouting their opinions based on what they thought happened, whether it was calling for the head of shooter George Zimmerman or claiming that Martin was at fault for wearing a hoodie.

Instead of jumping onto my laptop to write what I initially thought about this case, I decided to take my time. I wanted to see if I would be right.

Do you remember Troy Davis? Some of you do, but I imagine many of you have forgotten him by now. Last semester, protests unfolded across the nation as thousands of people fought repeated denials of clemency for Davis, whose guilt in the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail was widely contested.

We care about something, it fades from the headlines, we don’t. We pay attention to things we want to, ignore others and pick up new things to care about. That is just how things are.

But when we do commit ourselves to a cause, such as an execution or achieving justice for a slain teenager, we must be aware that we are not dealing with an esoteric form or idea. We are dealing with people.

As I hoped, advocacy for the full account of Trayvon Martin’s death and due process for George Zimmerman is underway. I am pleased to see involvement from people close to Martin and all over the country. More than anything, I would not like Trayvon’s story and the reflection it has inspired across the nation to fade away. I am an optimist; I believe we learn in bits and pieces from controversies and progress toward a society that is better than it was before.

However, I am worried about the way we become intertwined in causes out of convenience. For example, take a look at the Kony 2012 movement, which places a spotlight on Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and the atrocities his forces have perpetrated in Uganda and neighboring countries.

The video that sparked the movement was great for awareness, inspiring and educating millions about the conflict in Central Africa and Kony. But some viewers think it portrays the people of Uganda as incapable of dealing with their own conflict. It makes it seem as though they need someone to save them from Kony, who has been inactive in Uganda since the mid-2000s.

The lively state of public discourse should be a beacon of pride for people who are passionate about a given cause. However, without proper knowledge and the ability to take in new information and analysis of the issues we choose to support, we do a disservice to the people involved, and we allow the issues we care about to fade from public discourse even more quickly.

Many advocacy efforts today focus exclusively on disseminating particular perspectives. The people behind those efforts don’t take the time to confront counterpoints and learn about their audience, and they neglect to accumulate facts and present constructive arguments that could be improved over time. Instead, they rely on repetitive mantras and narrow-minded thinking that inevitably turn issues of public discussion into a gridlock of mobilized and uninformed partisans.

By the time we get the full picture, we have moved on to the next thing. Once another controversy happens to catch the slightest bit of steam, widespread calls for justice and accountability will fade, as they always do. Unfortunately, the same advocates who bring these issues to national attention in the first place are often the ones who let them disappear faster than they should. I hope the same doesn’t happen to the cause of justice for Trayvon Martin.

Morkeh Blay-Tofey is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact him at morkeh.blaytofey@yale.edu.

Comments

  • River_Tam

    This. This 100 times.

    I remember when it was all about Free Tookie. Most Yalies are probably too young to remember Tookie, but it was all the rage when I was in high school. And of course, there was the Duke Lacrosse case.

    Outrage should be reserved for a full understanding of the situation. Blind, or rage from a partially occluded point of view, does no one any good.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “We care about something, it fades from the headlines, we don’t.”

    Some of us stick with issues, and get labelled fanatics and has-beens.

    PK

  • 20Y12

    Another well written article Morkeh. Keep up the great work.

  • smartypants79

    You write: “Instead, they rely on repetitive mantras and narrow-minded thinking that inevitably turn issues of public discussion into a gridlock of mobilized and uninformed partisans.”

    This is so spot-on. People are having these knee-jerk reactions to things based on really incomplete information/evidence. Facebook and other social media are turning into a locus that facilitates, perpetuates, and validates mob mentality. Not only can this be dangerous in a material sense (see Spike Lee retweeting what he thought was George Zimmerman’s address), but it’s far more dangerous (yes, more) in terms of how our society responds to real problems. The answer to solving difficult issues is rarely to freak out, start a protest on line and just be pissed. For the last year especially, it seems like that’s all we’ve got. People are getting mobilized and worked into a frenzy over sound bites and never asking other questions about a given situation. it’s very bad.