You can scratch and claw and fight and hope and despair, and for years nothing changes.
Then one day, everything changes.
We are living one of those days now.
Malcolm Gladwell called it The TippingPoint, “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. He’s built a career on this 20-year-old belief that “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.” Rebecca Solnit, on the other hand, says that the road to sudden change is slow and meandering. “Before the uprising comes the work.”
Whatever theory you hold for why so much has changed in the last three weeks, there’s no denying that our values have shifted suddenly and astoundingly. These changes aren’t percolating in from the fringe, but exploding at the core.
The herd has moved.
When Oxford’s Oriel College decided last Wednesday to remove its statue of the Imperialist Victorian Cecil Rhodes; then on Saturday when Princeton University decided to remove the name of its (and America’s) former President Woodrow Wilson from its School of International Affairs; then yesterday, when the Mississippi State Legislature voted to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag…..when all three organizations had fought tooth and nail for years not to do what they did this month… change is in the air.
Here at home, Toronto City Council is also doing something unheard of: actually talking about cutting the Police budget by 10%. The motion was voted down on Monday by 16 to 8. But they approved a package of reforms from Mayor John Tory which includes body cameras for all members of the Force.
I ask you: when was the last time the Toronto Police were denied anything at budget-time or said yes to body cameras?
As for the RCMP, their gawping ineptitude with the Nova Scotia mass-murderer and their assault on Indigenous Chief Allan Adam might have led to shelved reports and job-shuffling if they’d happened before May 25th when George Floyd was executed in Minneapolis.
In Canada, the herd is shifting.
But in America, it’s galloping.
Take the issue of hate speech and fake news. Since the 2016 US election, social media have said they’re just a platform. They’re not media. They don’t censor. Their dog’s not in this fight. But this has only spread the pandemic of disinformation, finger-pointing and hate.
Then on May 26th, Twitter slapped a fact-check on one of President Trump’s posts. The next day he threatened to “strongly regulate” Twitter or even shut them down.
Then on June 17th, the Anti-Defamation League, Patagonia and The North Face said: “Enough, Mark Zuckerberg. We’re pulling our ads from Facebook.” By this morning, that #StopHateforProfit boycott had grown to over a hundred companies like Coca Cola, Starbucks and Unilever, the world’s 4th largest advertiser.
Then yesterday, Reddit banned Donald Trump’s biggest fan club, called r/The_Donald, as well as 2,000 other communities it claims spread hate on its platform.
It seems social media is as susceptible to pressure as the rest of us.
When they feel the heat, they see the light.
So here’s to a long, hot summer of our discontent.