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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Why We Should Care About Engaging In Real Social Activism

Calum Hayes |
May 9, 2013 | 3:07 p.m. PDT


One hundred USC students participated in a sit-in to protest racial profiling Monday. (Aaron Liu)
One hundred USC students participated in a sit-in to protest racial profiling Monday. (Aaron Liu)
I was 13 years old when I broke my left wrist. I was snowboarding, fell the wrong way and immediately knew it was broken (I was never any good at snowboarding). I ended up in the emergency room two and a half hours later, waiting for the orthopedist to come in and reset the bones of my arm. There was a man in the bed next to me in the room, the curtains drawn around him; he was weeping.

He was a truck driver.

He crashed his truck.

He broke his back.

He didn’t have medical insurance.

I lay there at 13 years old listening to a grown man cry as he told the nurses he couldn’t be there, that he couldn’t afford to have this happen to him. He had woken up that morning not knowing what would happen to him, not knowing that his life was about to change forever. About the time the anesthetic kicked in, I was aware of the nurses restraining him, afraid that his repeated attempts to get up and leave would leave him paralyzed.

There has been a lot of commotion at the University of Southern California (USC) lately about a party mostly attended by minority students that was broken up with what was unnecessary violence by an excessive number of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers (79, to be exact). I bring up this issue not in order to provide an opinion on the party or LAPD’s response to it; I readily admit that I do not have all the information about the situation. I bring up this issue because of the impact it has had on the students of USC and their social activism.

Like the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, this issue has spawned Facebook status after Facebook status, changed profile picture after changed profile picture. This whole manner of social movement has left me cold. The sentiment that “oh the least I can do is change my profile picture” is in fact 100 percent accurate. That is literally the least you can do for a movement. We seem to have become a generation that would rather click the “like” button under someone else’s words than ever create our own. We are so enveloped in the issues that only impact ourselves that we have forgotten that social activism is supposed to be so much more than that.

If to you this has seemed like a long winded article, a slowly winding road toward the main point I am trying to make, you are correct. I find myself at a loss for words over how to address what I see as an obvious problem in the world today. I find myself frustrated and dismayed over a lack of perspective. They say admitting your issues is the first step to growth; well, this is my admission. I am as hypocritical and broken as anyone when it comes to thinking of myself first.

It is high time we stopped focusing on only the issues that impact us. It is time for white students to join a movement to stop racial profiling. It is time for people to remember that there is nothing honorable or noteworthy about standing up for only those things that help us personally. That is why I will stand by universal healthcare as an issue that matters to me. I understand the points made about cost, to both taxpayers and doctors. I see the meaning behind all the statistics everyone gives about wait times for procedures in nations with universal healthcare vs. wait times in the United States. It’s just that none of that can override what I felt at 13. I have been lucky enough to always have health insurance, first through my family and now my university. Healthcare is not an issue that will dramatically change my life. However, every time I hear someone telling me why we shouldn’t pay for universal healthcare I think about the man in the bed next to me that evening. I think about him crying, knowing his choices were bankruptcy or a broken back that would leave him paralyzed. I think about how shattered a world he must have felt he was facing that evening, and I cant justify to myself not doing something about this issue.

That is what this article comes down to. It is a plea from a columnist you probably disagree with most of the time. It is a plea that we remember our duty to care about each other's plights, not just our own. It is a plea to realize that your profile picture isn’t bringing about change. At 13 years old, I shared a hospital room with an imperfect stranger who has been a constant reminder that the things that matter in this world are not the ones that make our own lives better, but the lives of those around us.

May we all be so lucky.


Reach Columnist Calum Hayes here; follow him here.



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